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Beating the odds and coming out a winner

Ten years ago, Ground Instructor Jeffrey Morse went to the doctor with a migraine headache that spiraled into emergency surgery for an aneurysm, suffering a spinal stroke as a result of the surgery and waking up paralyzed from the neck down. Given a 25% chance of survival, doctors gave him no hope of walking again and very little hope of living. Although Jeffrey’s path in life was altered, he pushed through the setback to not only survive but thrive. Six weeks later, barely able to stand, he used a walker to leave the hospital with a determination to successfully navigate through his disability to make the best of his second chance at life.

After his stroke, Jeffrey remained positive and knew he had to fight back. “The doctors were surprised I survived,” says Jeffrey. “I believe the only thing that saved me from that devastating trauma was that I was in good physical health and had a positive mindset. I decided my future is mine to create and write.” Given another chance at life, Jeffrey vowed to not let his disability get the best of him and learned to manage his circumstances.

Prior to joining Piedmont’s Flight Training department, Jeffrey served in the United States Air Force as an aircraft mechanic and flight engineer. Fifteen years later, Jeffrey left the Air Force and completed two associate degrees, one in Flight Engineering and one in Aircraft Maintenance. He worked for Lockheed Aeromod Systems converting Navy aircraft into drug surveillance aircraft and passenger aircraft into cargo aircraft and later worked for Kalitta Air Services as a flight engineer and Gemini Air Cargo flying DC-10s worldwide. At Gemini, he created and implemented the company’s in-house training program for the DC-10 and MD-11 fleet.

In June 2012, Jeffrey had begun suffering from migraine headaches. After a visit to the doctor, he was admitted to the hospital for emergency surgery for an aneurysm at the base of his skull. The trauma from the surgery caused him to have a spinal stroke leading to his paralysis. Determined to prove the doctors wrong who said he would never walk again, he walked out of the hospital six weeks later, a changed man with a new view on life.

He thought to himself that if he could walk out of the hospital, he could likely retrain more of his muscles to begin working again. He put together his own holistic therapy program that included cardio, neuro-muscular therapy, Pilates and yoga to keep his body moving without the use of pain medication. Little by little, his muscles began to wake up and he regained partial feeling. Despite going through such a devastating and traumatic experience, Jeffrey says he continues to remain positive through all of it because at the end of the day, he is alive. He told himself back then that he was going to make his quality of life better from that point forward and never looked back.

These days, Jeffrey begins his day at 4:00 am to stretch before leaving for work to train Piedmont pilots at the Flight Training Center. “Stretching is necessary and helps wake up my muscles for the day ahead,” he reflects. He enjoys sharing his years of flight experience and life experience as a professional airman with Piedmont’s pilots.  “I tell students that all their hard work to date has paid off but the hard work of becoming a professional airline pilot is just beginning. Be grateful for the opportunity, embrace it, and put your heart into learning and operating the aircraft. If I can learn how to walk again for the second time in my life, you can fly this jet.”

Although it’s been ten years, Jeffrey lives in constant pain and continues his journey to a pain-free life. He stays active and swims up to a mile as often as possible. He wrote a book about his experience that was published in 2022 called Finding Forward, You Have the Will Within. His hope is that the book can inspire others with their own limitations and setbacks. “If I can just help one person with what they are going through, then I am thankful for that opportunity. It feels great to know I am helping others.” He has spoken about his experience on numerous National Public Radio stations, through podcasts worldwide and writes a blog post once a week.

Jeffrey encourages those who work with people with disabilities to be patient and not judgmental. “Disabled people are often going through more than you may see on the surface, so please be kind. Get to know them, ask them if there are things they may need or help them get through a day better. They will appreciate it more than you know.” He also encourages those who live with disabilities to thank their caregivers regularly because the caregivers are there at the end of a difficult day.

Thankful to be alive and mobile, Jeffrey gained an awareness and new appreciation for life. He has continued to travel since his stroke, has visited all seven continents, and been on countless adventures all over the world including a visit to Nepal. “I went to Mount Everest to tell the tallest mountain in the world that I didn’t need to climb anymore mountains,” he says. “I overcame my obstacles and didn’t give up after my doctor’s prognosis. I prevailed and I won!”

Jeffrey says he has met so many wonderful people in aviation and that all of them have made him a better person. “When the challenges of the day become difficult, I sometimes lean on all the wonderful memories of people, friends, and places in my career to help me through the day. I always say to myself to let awareness in, and don’t let trauma win, and because of it, I’m blessed and very fortunate.”

June is Men’s Health Month and National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month. Piedmont cares about the wellness of our team members and encourages everyone to take care of their own health.