Train-accident survivor Morgan Jones' life of independence
Almost a decade has passed since Stuff last caught up with Morgan Jones, whose life changed forever when, as a six-year-old boy, he fell from a Coastal Pacific Train after a safety rail on a viewing platform failed.
What happened that day in July 1994 had severe and far-reaching consequences for Morgan, who lost part of his right leg and was left blind and partially paralysed on his left side. His plight touched many at the time and his family's battle for compensation from Tranz Rail was widely reported.
By 2010, when Stuff last reported on how life was progressing for Morgan, he had grown into a confident young man with a passion for conservation, music and dancing. With guide dog OJ at his side, he was studying at the University of Canterbury and working towards a Bachelor of Science, majoring in biology, with high hopes of eventually landing a job in environmental advocacy.
It was a proud day for Morgan in April 2013 when he graduated, but, sadly, he's had a tough time since trying to break into the career market. To the science degree, he added a Certificate in Medical Terminology from AUT in 2016, with a view to potentially finding a job in medical administration.
"I've applied for a few jobs and got shortlisted for one, but it required doing an online typing speed test that involved copying text. Unfortunately, because of the way it was done, my screen-reading software interpreted it as a graphic and so I couldn't do it," Morgan says.
His ultimate dream is still to work in a conservation role, perhaps cataloguing bird calls or contributing in some other administrative capacity.
"While I'm limited in the field, I can still do some practical work. I just need someone to give me a go."
It is amazing how closely Morgan can imitate the calls of bellbird and shining cuckoo. He wonders whether he could do a masters' degree on how bird calls vary around the country. Right now, he is working to make the garden around his Spreydon townhouse "completely native" and, no doubt, native birds will follow.
Four years ago, Morgan moved out of the family home to live independently and he's had two flatmates since. It has had its ups and downs. By his own admission, he's not a motivated cook, although an occupational therapist is helping him master the art of pizza. In other respects, though, he is managing well, with some assistance for chores such as cleaning and shopping.
OJ retired as his guide dog three years ago and has since died. Morgan now has another black labrador, Jessie J, as his guide. He says she is a little more wilful and wayward in character. She added a Kinder Surprise to the supermarket shop recently and collects random objects, such as paper bags, from the footpath. Yet, she loves sticking to a routine, preferring not to do anything different without someone else being there, too. Morgan says he is now very comfortable navigating his neighbourhood with Jessie J by his side.
Dancing remains his favourite pastime and he smiles as he reels off all the different styles he enjoys, including modern jive, salsa, cha-cha and bachata. He is hoping to try another Brazilian style of dance called zouk soon. He dances regularly with a couple of city dance clubs, Latin Fire Dance Academy and Fevah Modern Jive.
"I can only really dance with a partner. If I was dancing solo, it'd probably end in disaster, though I suppose I could potentially do pole dancing," Morgan quips. "Dancing makes me feel good. I like to think I look good, too, and it keeps me fit."
At the time of our interview, Morgan was looking forward to attending the Give it a Go! Amputee Youth Camp in Wellington and trying whitewater rafting for the first time, along with Japanese taiko drumming. He has pushed his boundaries at these camps over the past few years, doing activities such as jet boating, horse riding, high ropes and a bridge swing.
Now 30, Morgan is moving out of the youth age bracket for these camps, but he knows life still has a lot more adventure in store for him.