Patient Profile — Jan Morgan, M.D.
From Patient to Advocate: Cyclist survives a brush with death and becomes a vocal advocate for helmet use and biker-protection laws.
Written By Phillip Jordan
David Morgan, M.D., had just finished dressing for work the morning of May 22, 2011 when the phone rang. “I knew I was getting a call at the wrong time,” David says.
His wife, Jan Morgan, M.D., was training for her second Ironman Triathlon®. She was doing a 70-mile bike ride around her hometown of Starkville, Miss., that morning with her friend Kim. “I knew her pace and I knew how long they were riding,” “It was too early for them to be finished,” David recalls.
It was Kim calling. “She said, ‘Jan’s been hit, and it’s bad.’”
About 50 miles into their ride, a motorist hit Jan from behind. The police report describes the force of the crash launching Jan off her bike, into the air, and then landing on the hood of the motorist’s car, rolling into the windshield. When the driver came to a stop, Jan flew forward on the asphalt.
What happened next seemed unbelievable to onlookers rushing to the scene. The Starkville Daily News quoted the accident report: “The driver… exited the vehicle and observed the cyclist while talking on the phone. [The driver] then re-entered her vehicle and ran the cyclist over again before being forced from her vehicle by a witness.”
For the first couple of weeks after the accident, doctors at North Mississippi Medical Center focused on keeping Jan alive. Major injuries included collapsed lungs, sternal fractures, a lumbar burst fracture, scalp lacerations, a frontal lobe contusion and hemorrhaging in the temporal lobe of her brain.
“You name it, I had it,” Jan says.
Doctors kept her in a coma and on a ventilator for five weeks. Jan doesn’t remember anything from a couple days before the accident to nearly three months after.
Her husband isn’t so lucky. A radiologist, David says it was difficult knowing all too well how much his wife was suffering. “Seeing it from the patient side was hard,” he says. “It was an emotional rollercoaster. It made me appreciate what patients’ families go through all the time.”
It was two weeks before David knew Jan would live. He immediately began seeking a brain injury rehabilitation hospital and found Shepherd Center. She was still a 4 on the Rancho cognitive-functioning scale when she arrived at Shepherd Center more than five weeks after the collision. “She was confused, agitated, not aware,” David recalls. “It was like talking to a 6-month-old.” Still, staff started Jan on physical, occupational, speech and recreation therapy. For about 10 days, there was little progress.
“The staff kept telling me, ‘She’ll come out of this.’ But it was frustrating,” David says. “Then one day, a nurse came in with pills, and Jan reached to take the pills from her. The nurse and I did a little dance. It was the tiniest, simplest act, but it meant a lot. She had done it on her own. That was the first time I had real hope that she could be herself again.”
Payal Fadia, M.D., medical director of Post-Acute Brain Injury Services, was Jan’s doctor at Shepherd Center. “It was normal for her to be confused and agitated initially with the combination of her fractures and brain trauma,” Dr. Fadia says. “Once we got her settled down, she did well. She really progressed quicker than most, especially considering the depth of her injuries.”