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Morrison family embraces a 'new normal'

The Morrisons adjust to their new life, embracing their community. - Tracy Holmes photo
The Morrisons adjust to their new life, embracing their community.
— image credit: Tracy Holmes photo

Richard Morrison knew something was wrong when he looked at his hands after falling playing hockey and realized he couldn’t move them.

Lying chest-down on the ice at Burnaby 8 Rinks after tripping over the goalie pads on a breakaway, Morrison remembers looking up at the goal line and then further up, to the boards.

“I remember saying ‘uh oh,’” he said. “Once I saw that I couldn’t move my hands, I knew I was in trouble.

“I remember it clear as day.”

Morrison, 48, was rendered a quadriplegic in the April 21 fall, which sent him crashing head-first into the boards.

Transported to Royal Columbian and then Vancouver General Hospital, he spent 6½ hours in surgery, five weeks in VGH’s spinal unit and 4½ months at GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre.

He returned home to South Surrey on Oct. 30.

Reflecting on his accident and the “new normal” that has confined him to an electric wheelchair, Morrison said it could be years before the full extent of his injuries is clear; before he knows just how much use of his limbs might return.

Doctors won’t give him a formal diagnosis until a year passes, he said, because it will be at least that long before swelling of his spinal cord fully subsides.

In the meantime, there is progress, albeit slow.

“I’m getting better a millimetre a day,” he said during a recent interview in his three-bedroom mobile home. “I’m just starting to feel something in my (left) thumb.”

The family had been living in a third-floor White Rock condo when Morrison got hurt, but it would have been impossible to manage his new life there.

Community reacts

Morrison’s story is one that sent shock waves rippling through the Semiahmoo Peninsula. He had been a popular bartender in the area – it’s how he met his wife, Sheila – before deciding to pursue a career in real estate, while also driving for HandyDart.

It didn’t take long for people to offer a helping hand – it came from friends, colleagues, fellow hockey enthusiasts and people around the world who were touched by Morrison’s story.

Within hours of his accident, five of Morrison’s hockey mates had rustled up $5,000 for his family.

In the months since then, fundraising efforts and donations have climbed to about $250,000, including $11,000 raised by residents of Sheila’s hometown of Snow Lake, Man.

“Amazing, amazing support,” Morrison said. “It’s very overwhelming.

“What I really want to put out there is how grateful we are.”

The money has paid for a new home for Morrison, Sheila and their two children, Johnny and Jessa, including close to $30,000 in renovations that were needed to make the mobile home wheelchair accessible.

“We renovated pretty much everything,” Brent Silzer, a longtime friend of Morrison’s said, pointing out widened doorways, hardwood floors and a near-finished deck with wheelchair access.

They are also awaiting a wheelchair-accessible van, which will make getting around easier.

Morrison asked Peace Arch News to help him thank all the people who have come forward to donate, lend a hand or facilitate a fundraiser. While there are simply too many for him to name them all, he credits Silzer with getting the phenomenal ball of support rolling.

Silzer is quick to shrug off the credit, pointing instead to the response of media outlets that helped spread word of what happened to Morrison, businessowners who hosted fundraisers – $50,000 was raised in one night alone at Boston Pizza; HandyDart rallied together another $30,000 or so  – and community groups that offered to help.

In addition to the much-needed funds, the story got Morrison a birthday song from well-known hockey commentator Don Cherry and a personal visit from Canada’s Man in Motion, Rick Hansen. It also convinced Canucks’ co-owner Paolo Aquilini to drop by Morrison’s son’s sixth birthday party.

“People just want to help me,” he said. “It’s really overwhelming, the support that we’ve had in the community.

“We just feel like we should be wearing a big thank-you T-shirt.”

Surrey Eagles’ players promised to deliver a live Christmas tree and work on improving the family’s yard for Johnny and Jessa, Sheila added.

Looking forward

Looking ahead, Morrison is doing his best to stay positive. He has physiotherapy twice a week, and spends hours online exploring options for a new career.

While frustrated at the limitations his injury has forced on him, he is hopeful he’ll one day regain enough function to at least hug his wife and kids.

Playing some form of hockey is also on Morrison’s wish list.

Up until his accident, he played three or four times a week, including with the Titans Hockey Club at Planet Ice in Delta and Saturday mornings in Burnaby.

“For me, it was my stress relief,” he said.

After what happened, some friends haven’t returned to the ice, but Morrison said he is undeterred.

“If I could get my legs back or my hands back, I’d still wanna go play hockey.”

Sheila, he said, has been “my rock… everything.” The pair have been together for 10 years, and married in 2005. Everyday, without fail, they say ‘four 42, I love you’ at 4:42 p.m. – a time that combines the pair’s favourite numbers, 44 and 42.

For Sheila, the last 7½ months have also been an adjustment, as she juggles being a wife and mother with the new tasks of caring for her husband and helping him regain whatever independence he can.

One of the challenges has been learning to interpret what Morrison’s various symptoms mean – whether it’s a spike in blood pressure or sudden sweating – and determining if they warrant emergency assistance.

She’s optimistic she’ll be able to return to work at Crescent Gardens Retirement Residence in January, and is especially grateful that the community support enabled her to focus on her husband and family, she said.

“They always say the first year is the hardest,” she said.

“We’re just happy to have him home.”

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