By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Looking at Jan Morgan, you wouldn’t know she’d spent the majority of this summer fighting for her life.
She walked into Boardtown Bikes without any aid Friday morning, though her husband David was by her side, ready to catch her if she stumbled.
Besides a few scars, some left over from the road rash, others from the tubes placed in her body by doctors, there is very little evidence of the trauma her body endured.
On May 22, Jan was hit by a car while she and a friend, Kim Richardson, were out riding their bicycles on Highway 50. She suffered major injuries, including a number of broken bones and massive head trauma. The injuries were so extensive that her family and friends were not sure she was going to make it.
But here she is, smiling and laughing, happy to be back in the bicycle shop she and her husband opened just a few years ago, a place she said is like her second home.
“They really just want me here to sign the paychecks,” she joked.
Jan has a positive attitude now, but a few short weeks ago nobody knew if she would have gotten to this point. She spent a month in critical condition at a hospital in Tupelo, where she was kept sedated while she recovered from her injuries.
“I wasn’t sure she was even going to make it to the hospital. And for the next couple of weeks, it was pretty bad. After the first two weeks I knew she was going to survive,” David said. “Then it was just wondering what’s going to be the next level. After the first two weeks, I didn’t know what kind of neurological devastation she was going to have.”
After a month, she was transported to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta where she spent a month working with doctors and therapists who specialize in brain trauma. She was disoriented, confused and agitated when she first came to the center. She worked with therapists for weeks to repair not only her body, but also her mind.
Jan said she remembers very little of the first week she spent at the center, none of her time in Tupelo or the day of the accident.
“I don’t remember anything about that morning, or starting the ride with Kim, or even the day before. (David) told me some of the stuff I did, but I don’t remember,” Jan said. “He also tried to tell me that before the accident that I liked John Wayne movies and I was a domestic goddess, cooking and cleaning all the time, but I don’t believe him. Not at all.”
But in the final three weeks at the Shepherd Center, she made major progress. Jan started out not being able to walk without assistance or carry on a conversation, but now she is a whole new woman. Her doctors and nurses all said her recovery has been nothing short of amazing.
She attributes her improvement to David’s help.
“He is just the best caregiver. He stayed by my side every chance he could,” she said. “That’s the part that hurts me the worst is understanding what he went through for the first, probably six weeks of it. He didn’t know whether I was going to live or die. I went back and read some of his earlier posts and it made me cry, too. He didn’t know. I feel bad for what he had to go through, and my other family members.”
One of Jan’s biggest supporters has been a professional cyclist, Saul Raisin, who crashed his bike during a race and landed on his head. Raisin was treated at the Shepherd Center and stopped by Jan’s room one day.
“He just showed up in my room one day and taught us a lot of stuff about what we have to go through,” Jan said. “One of the things he said will be the hardest is for me to accept my condition, understand that I have limitations, but they will get better. I expect to one day have a full recovery.”
Although it would be understandable for Jan to be hesitant to get back on a bike any time soon, she said Raisin encouraged her to ride again.
“The doctors have told me not to ride for a year. Saul told me to get back on my bike as soon as I can,” she said. “I told him that the doctors said not to ride, and he said, ‘Don’t pay any attention to them.’”
And despite everything she’s been through, she hopes to one day compete in the Ironman competition she was training for the day of the accident.
The woman who hit Jan, who has been identified as Robbie Norton of Cedar Bluff, has not faced any charges in the accident, a fact that frustrates both of them. District Attorney Forrest Allgood said there simply isn’t any law that would allow him to press felony charges.
“At this point, I understand where Mr. Allgood came from. I didn’t like it, but he was going by the law,” David said. “The highway patrol has thrown their hands up at it. There’s no support from them that I can tell. I would have assumed that they would have pressed misdemeanor charges, but it looks to me like that it is completely up to us.”
“It is astounding to me that you can almost kill somebody, and then walk away and never have to face any consequences,” David said.
Jan said she recently learned that Norton called the hospital the day after the accident and spoke with her son, but she has never made an attempt to contact Jan or David personally. They both wonder about the woman who changed their lives forever.
“The question that I’ve always had about that is: how much remorse does she feel? If someone had true remorse, came and said ‘oh, I’m so sorry’ or ‘I made a mistake’ – everybody makes mistakes – that would make it a lot easier,” David said.
“That would go a long way in helping our feelings,” Jan said.
Jan said she hopes what happened to her doesn’t discourage other people from getting out and being active. But she and David would like to see stronger laws that protect cyclists and pedestrians.
“I would like to go to our state senators and plead my case, and say, ‘Look, this was me. It happened to me.’ We need to change the laws,” Jan said.
Since the accident, David has been very vocal about safety on the road for everyone. He strongly believes cellphone use – which may have been a factor in the accident – should be outlawed for drivers. He would also like to see felony consequences for violating the John Paul Frerer Bicycle Safety Act, which says motorists must give three feet of space when passing cyclists.
“I really feel that the 3-foot law needs some teeth – it has no teeth. I think that’s been one of the most disappointing things to me, is that clearly as a cyclist or pedestrian, you’re roadkill out there,” he said. “The Mississippi state law does not have any concern whatsoever for its citizens.”
Jan and David returned home to Starkville almost two weeks ago. She will have to continue physical therapy at a center in Jackson, though she does not know for how long. While she still has a journey ahead of her before she is fully recovered, Jan has managed to keep a positive outlook even in the toughest moments.
“We laughed a lot. I cried a lot, just thinking about what he went through,” she said. “What can you do? You have to try to keep a good attitude.”