Living My Life in the Now

morgan_lead_printMorgan Wood has been coming to Seattle Children’s since he was born — and as an adult, he continues to benefit from recreational and social skills classes at the Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center.

He is known among both friends and providers for sharing his life mantras, which he developed to work through challenges related to living with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Below, Morgan shares six of his mantras and other interesting insights from his life experience.

My name is Morgan Wood and I’m 26 years old. I was born very premature, weighing 729 grams, which is less than two pounds. Because of my weight and a bad infection I had at birth, they tell me I’m sort of a miracle. My mom explains that I had systemic sepsis, and the doctors in the neonatal intensive care unit told her they couldn’t guarantee survival of preemies like me — they do their best and rely on the inner will of babies to do the rest. I guess I had that strength in the beginning, because my doctor, Dr. Craig Jackson, told my parents I was the sickest baby in the unit.

This “inner will” has kept me going throughout my whole life. Because of that early infection, my right leg is five inches shorter than my left — and that’s after I had surgeries to lengthen my right leg and shorten my left one. The infection also ate up the ball at the top of my leg, so my right hip is always dislocated. I wear a special shoe to make my right side taller, but it still hurts sometimes when I stand or walk.

I may have some physical challenges, but I also have the best support group ever. My parents love me and know what I need, there are lots of people I can go to for help, and Seattle Children’s has gotten me through a bunch of the medical problems from my premature birth.

Morgan and his friends pose for a photo next to a car made to look like Lightning McQueen from the movie Cars.

From the time I was a little boy, I knew coming to Seattle Children’s with my mom and dad was going to be a normal part of my life. Walking through the front door of the hospital gave me lots of feelings. I loved my doctors, but I was still scared to come in for appointments with them. And I always felt very nervous about procedures, even though the nurses made me laugh every time I had one.

I spent years seeing different kinds of therapists at Seattle Children’s who helped make my body strong enough to stand up, walk, talk and even hold a fork. I also spent a lot of time with Dr. Avery Weiss, who needed to check my eyes regularly because I have limited sight. It was hard, but he helped me feel brave enough to get through those exams. My orthopedist, Dr. Mark Dales, was another great doctor of mine; he spent years making my legs work better together.

When I was 8 years old, I was also diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Being on the autism spectrum made it possible for me to get extra support at school, but when I grew up and finished school, I still had other things I wanted to learn — like cooking!

When Seattle Children’s Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center opened a few years ago, I started going there for “open rec,” where I could just hang out with friends, watch a movie or play video games.

At the Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center, Morgan is a regular participant, according to Program Manager Tammy Mitchel.
Morgan poses with Program Manager Tammy Mitchel at the Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center.

They also have classes that teach life skills — so I finally got to take that cooking class I wanted. It’s nice to have a place where I can try different things, keep learning and have fun with my friends.

When I’m not at home with my family or at the Burnett center, I’m at my job. I started working at a retirement community in 2008 when my best friend — my grandma — passed away from cancer. At first, it just felt good to be around people who were like her, but now I keep going because I love it.

At work, I spend time with people who can’t really talk and are in wheelchairs — usually because they had a stroke or are living with dementia. I like to read them stories from Reader’s Digest that I pull up on my iPad, and sometimes I find happy stories in the news that I can share. I can tell they like it, because they smile at me or give me their hand to hold while I read.

All in all, I’ve had to deal with a lot of challenges in my life, and it has taken focus to stay positive and keep moving forward. That’s why I created my “mantras.” I like to share these ideas with my family and close friends as little reminders to make the most out of life. With the help of my parents and family, doctors, teachers, friends, Seattle Children’s and the Burnett center, my “mantras” help make everyday life a breeze.

Here are a few of my favorites and how I use them:

Just Keep Swimming. When I was younger, my parents and I decided that swimming would be a really great way for me to get exercise because other sports were too stressful for my body. I worked hard in the pool with my swim coach for a long time until I could do laps for a whole hour. I kept telling myself: “Just keep swimming.”

Timing Is Everything. This is a really important message to remember every day. When Mom bakes, and I’m waiting and waiting for that delicious goodness to come out of the oven … this is what I tell myself. Dough is never as good raw as it is cooked.

morgan2_webOne Step at a Time. When the day is a hard one and the challenge ahead feels too heavy, this is what I tell myself. I’ve used this mantra after surgeries, when the going is slow and recovery feels like too much. With all the surgeries I’ve had on my legs, this one has come in handy… even when I’ve yelled it out!

Breathe. I got this idea from yoga, where I do a lot of breathing. But you know what I realized? It really helps me slow down and relax. So whenever I’m feeling stressed out, I say to myself, “Just breathe.”

Enjoy the Journey. This is one I use on days when everything feels hard and I want to remember to lighten up a little. At times like this, I use this mantra and eat a cookie.

Persevere. I use this mantra when it feels like nothing else is working — it’s just the bottom line to everything. I even use it for getting up in the morning when I want to sleep in! But it also reminds me to keep going, no matter what. It’s the mantra that beats any obstacle and always gives me a little bit of strength when I need it most.

Everyone has little things they use to make their life easier. I have my mantras.