BETHESDA, Maryland Taylor Morris has swept the nation over the past six months. Thousands of strangers have shared his story along with raising money for his future needs. In May, the 24-year-old Navy petty officer lost much of his arms and legs following a bomb blast in Afghanistan.
Morris, an explosive ordinance disposal tech, was clearing the way for his team when it happened. The IED he encountered wasn't detected. "It blew me up in the air and I landed down on my back. I knew my arms and legs were gone because I couldn't see them," Morris described.
He was transported to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he has since been recovering. His girlfriend, Danielle Kelly, got the call about Morris's accident while riding in a car with a friend. " Instantly my heart just dropped beneath the floor, it just could not have got any lower," Kelly recalls.
For a couple who had their world turned upside down their strength and outlook on life is one we should all take note of. We met with the two on an early Wednesday morning in October. We stepped into their apartment on the Walter Reed Campus and found Morris making breakfast. As he sat in a wheelchair, he used his prosthetic hand to turn on the oven and stove. "It's just like for you, moving your wrist up and down. It's got sensors that are on those muscles on my forearm," Morris explained to us.
We, along with Morris's occupational therapist, watched him fry eggs and frost cinnamon rolls. While Morris was serving breakfast, making breakfast served as Morris's occupational therapy.
Morris is now relearning everyday chores which he said can sometimes be annoying. But he's determined to master what he now has on his body." I wanted to be out of here in a year, which is a pretty aggressive goal for a quadruple amputee," Morris said.
For those who know Morris, it comes as no surprise that he's well on his way to doing just that. "He was just like all right, this is what we have, let's get better," said Kelly. His occupational therapist also told us that he's flying through.
Despite the challenges, the Cedar Falls native considers himself fortunate not to have any internal injuries. Now he is determined to move forward with his life.
For the past six months, hundreds of thousands of people have followed his recovery through his support page. It's there that people can see Morris drive, run and dance. "What makes me excited is when he gets excited about things. When he realizes that he can do something else or that he can do something for me. I know he enjoys when he doesn't feel like I have to take care of him," said Kelly.
Kelly has been by his side for years, but it's taken on a whole new meaning the past six months. "I need help with so many more things on a daily basis now and just to have her there. We're just such good friends and get along with each other so well. It's just awesome to have someone like that by your side," said Morris. He said since he was injured, he has really learned how wonderful of a caregiver Kelly is.
Kelly couldn't help but agree that the two are not just boyfriend and girlfriend but best friends. "We're a good team, I think when I am having an off day, he balances me out and vice versus," she said. She notes that while Taylor has some physical changes they are still the same people. "I feel like I knew him pretty well beforehand, obviously we now know each other inside and out," she said.
The two spend their day with doctors, physical therapists, and wound specialists. But it's the few hours late at night, where life is just how the like it, normal. "We go eat dinner and come back and watch marathon seasons of our favorite shows," said Morris. The sailor listed Sons of Anarchy, White Collar, and Breaking Bad as their top picks. "For that hour or two that we get to just lay on the couch and relax, that's the best. That's our sense of peace," said Kelly. Kelly added that they also have enjoyed sightseeing in D.C ...
By next spring, they hope to find a new peace back in Iowa. "I want to be able to get a job and do it proficiently and the least amount of adaptive equipment I use is better, I think," said Morris. He added that he is currently working to completely phase out the use of his wheelchair and wants to be able to blend in with every day activities.
Kelly has plans to go into real estate. But together, the two have plans to pay if forward. "So many people have helped us out through this and different organizations and so we've really been talking about giving back ourselves and helping out with different non-profits," said Kelly.
The two refuse to let a change in life, get in the way from living it to the fullest. "Yes a horrible thing happened, but we're still having a good time and still laughing," said Kelly. As we spent the morning with Morris, we witnessed just that, first hand. The Navy Seal is proof that if you mix a little humor with determination and heart, you can conquer anything life gives you, or takes away.
Shortly after May, a website called the Chive.com ran an article on Morris proposing that readers pitch in money to help build Taylor and Danielle a home. In just a few days readers raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. "I was definitely surprised, I didn't even think it would work when he originally pitched the idea to us," said Morris.
August Homecoming Parade
In August, Morris and Kelly came home for a long weekend to enjoy a friend's wedding. Upon arrival at the Waterloo airport they found hundreds of motorcycles, flags, and people lining the streets from the airport through downtown Cedar Falls to welcome Morris home. "That was awesome, I had never seen anything like that. I certainly didn't expect that. It was pretty overwhelming, but in a good way," he said.
President Obama Talks About Morris
During the Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Sunday, President Barack Obama talked about Morris. Here is a portion of the speech:
"That's what we do in America. We take care of our own. We take care of our veterans. We take care of your families. Not just by saluting you on one day, once a year, but by fighting for you and your families every day of every year. That's our obligation - a sacred obligation - to all of you.
And it's an obligation that we gladly accept for Americans like Petty Officer Taylor Morris. Six months ago, Taylor was serving our nation in Afghanistan. And as a member of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, his job was one of the most dangerous there is: to lead the way through territory littered with hidden explosives; to clear the way for his brothers-in-arms.
On May 3rd, while out on patrol, Taylor stepped on an IED. The blast threw him into the air. And when he hit the ground, Taylor realized that both his legs were gone. And his left arm. And his right hand.
But as Taylor lay there, fully conscious, bleeding to death, he cautioned the medics to wait before rushing his way. He feared another IED was nearby. Taylor's concern wasn't for his own life; it was for theirs.
Eventually, they cleared the area. They tended to Taylor's wounds. They carried him off the battlefield. And days later, Taylor was carried into Walter Reed, where he became only the fifth American treated there to survive the amputation of all four limbs.
Now, Taylor's recovery has been long. And it has been arduous. And it's captivated the nation. A few months after the attack, with the help of prosthetics, the love and support of his family, and above all his girlfriend Danielle, who never left his side, Taylor wasn't just walking again. In a video that went viral, the world watched he and Danielle dance again.
I've often said the most humbling part of my job is serving as Commander-in-Chief. And one of the reasons is that, every day, I get to meet heroes. I met Taylor at Walter Reed. And then in July, at the White House, I presented him with the Purple Heart. And right now, hanging on a wall in the West Wing is a photo of that day, a photo of Taylor Morris smiling wide and standing tall.
I should point out that Taylor couldn't make it here today because he and Danielle are out kayaking. (Laughter and applause.) In Taylor we see the best of America a spirit that says, when we get knocked down, we rise again. When times are tough, we come together. When one of us falters, we lift them up. In this country we take care of our own - especially our veterans who have served so bravely and sacrificed so selflessly in our name. And we carry on, knowing that our best days always lie ahead."