“I am not personally diagnosed, no, that would be my father. My hero. As I write this I now fully comprehend what this disease has done not only to him, but myself as well. This disease, this poison, which runs through my father’s nervous system, has also penetrated my heart. It has forced me to grow up too fast, face too many hard decisions and terrifying thoughts, and in the long run this disease will take my father away from me,” Morgan Ray, the 2010 Society Mike Dugan Scholar, wrote in her application essay. “As I stand on the edge of the horizon looking off into adulthood, I know that this will always be a part of who I am.”
Since she was 8 or 9, Morgan’s been a major caregiver for her dad. He was diagnosed with progressive MS when she was two years old, and Morgan has almost no recollection of him walking. He is essentially a quadriplegic, she explained. By the time she was 11, she had learned how to write checks, balance a checkbook and sign his name. She also helps him get in and out of bed and feeds him.
In addition to taking care of her dad, who’s divorced from her mom but lives nearby, Morgan takes a lot of responsibility for her three younger siblings. None of that stopped her from being a high school powerhouse: area president of Health Occupations Students of America, a member of the National Honor Society, the Parliamentary Procedure Team and the student council, and an enthusiastic actor in school plays. All this while also holding down part-time restaurant jobs and volunteering regularly.
All of her hard work has paid off. As the Society’s Mike Dugan Scholar in 2010 Morgan was granted a scholarship and the opportunity to renew it for the next three years; she has also received scholarships from her school for being on the honor roll and for character, service and leadership. She studies applied behavioral analysis at the University of North Texas in Denton, her hometown, where she hopes to do autism therapy, an interest sparked by a younger brother with autism.
Morgan’s drive to succeed, she says, comes from her father, once an international businessman. “I knew my dad took pride in what I did; therefore, I did it all. I took advanced placement classes; I got a job. He fostered my love for literature and nurtured my thirst for knowledge.”
Morgan shared what she’s learned about dealing with someone with a chronic illness. “You have to make sure you don’t pity the person with the disease,” she notes. “Sometimes my friends don’t realize he is a fully functioning person — they might talk louder to him, for example. My dad is different but he is still a dad. He gets on me to get enough sleep and not take on too much.”
Sometimes you can’t think of yourself first, which as a teenager can be hard, Morgan added. “Instead of going out with friends on Friday night, I might have to help, and do things I wouldn’t normally be doing at 17.
“Life is what you make of it,” Morgan went on. “It’s going to suck, but you have to swallow it — it’s more important to be there for your parent than wallow in your own misery. I did that for a while, but all it did was pull me away from my dad.”
These days Morgan fears her dad’s health is deteriorating and there are times when she wants to tell him that he isn’t allowed to die. “It isn’t fair,” she’d like to say. “I haven’t gotten married, and he hasn’t met his grandchildren. He’s my daddy and I’m his princess, his motor mouth, his monkey toes.”