News and Tribune

January 11, 2013

After traumatic accident, Charlestown teacher Nicole Keith-Morrison finds herself where she belongs


CHARLESTOWN — On Monday, she walked into her class and started off the semester of government and economics like she’d never been out of school.

While her seniors had two weeks away from courses, Nicole Keith-Morrison hadn’t stood in front of them as a teacher for nine months.

Keith-Morrison, 31, is back at Charlestown High School after she was hit by car while walking on April 3, 2012. She suffered a fractured skull, three broken vertebrae and traumatic brain injuries.

Though medical experts helped her get in front of a classroom without a neck brace or cane, she said her school family and positive attitude pushed her to get back to the place she calls home.

“Their support and visits for me in the hospital were better than any medicine,” Keith-Morrison said. “Everybody’s been so supportive and welcoming me back. I just feel like they’re my family. Everything is so positive; I just feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

Injury And Recovery

After she was hit, Keith-Morrison was airlifted to University of Louisville Hospital for surgery on her head and neck injuries.

John Rowland, principal at Charlestown High School, said at first, no one knew if Keith-Morrison was going to survive, much less make a recovery.

“I was at the hospital the night of the accident,” Rowland said. “At the time, we were fearful for her life. I truly believe that the prayers of many people being answered, that’s why she’s with us here today.”

Part of Keith-Morrison’s skull had to be removed. She had 60 staples in the right side of her head and needed a breathing tube. Doctors told her that most people with her type of spinal fractures suffer paralysis from the neck down.

But the stories didn’t faze her. In all that time, all she wanted to do was teach again.

“That was my number one goal,” Keith-Morrison said. “That when I got discharged, I’d be able to come back to class in Charlestown.”

While doctors were doing everything they could, her family at Charlestown High School supported her and her family in a number of ways. Students in Erin Cassady’s family and consumer sciences class got the school involved in putting together a quilt with panels made by classes, teachers and students.

Students made a “chain of love,” paper chain links with words of encouragement written on each of them. It was long enough to circle the school’s track.

Adam Toliver, a world history teacher and one of Keith-Morrison’s colleagues, collected donations for a gas card so her family could travel back and forth from hospital visits.

Another of Keith-Morrison’s friends at the school and a retired teacher, Janice Hall, said the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter invited staff and students to their daily prayer circle to offer prayers for Keith-Morrison.

She said stayed at U of L until April 12. She was transferred to Southern Indiana Rehab hospital, where she was given occupational, speech and physical therapy. Doctors released her to go home on April 25.

Though she said the first thing she wanted to do was get back to school, she said her doctors told her to continue therapy until she was closer to a full recovery.

Keith-Morrison said her positive attitude kept her pushing toward her goals.

“I don’t feel sorry for myself, I have no reason to,” Keith-Morrison said. “My goal is to tell everyone that if something happens to you, it’s not the end of the world. You have to stay positive because a negative attitude doesn’t get you anywhere.”

She said she continued to visit school. She made it to watch her seniors graduate last year, wearing a neck brace and walking with the aid of a cane.

Hall said she’s shocked at how much of a recovery she made.

“Personally, I think it was a miracle that one, she survived, and that she was able to come back so well,” Hall said. “But, that’s a non-medical opinion.”

Home Again

Rowland said just as Christmas break began two weeks ago, they found out Keith-Morrison’s doctors released her to go back to work. The district got everything in order for her to start on Jan. 7.

“it’s a relief,” Rowland said. “We’re glad that we have a veteran teacher back. I really think she’s going to be more focused on her academic and instruction needs more than ever because it’s kind of like teaching for the first time again.”

Keith-Morrison is also the sponsor of the senior class. She advises students on applying for scholarships and college as they approach graduation. Hall said that makes her job even more personal than just teaching.

At least through the beginning of April, Hall will serve as her job coach and help with anything she needs in the classroom. She said she doesn’t have to help her much, just with a lost word from time to time. But she seems at home in front of a group of students.

“I am amazed at how well she’s doing,” Hall said. “I think for most of us, she looked a lot better than we thought she would. She just seems like she’s going about her regular way of just teaching. I don’t think students recognize anything different about her.”

Keith-Morrison said initially, she was worried about whether students would notice a difference in how she looked. So far, they’ve only seen a different haircut and a teacher with a smile.

But she said the whole experience raised her awareness of the problems faced by victims of traumatic brain injury. She said she hopes to get more involved with groups that help victims, including soldiers coming back from war.

For now, she said she’s glad to have classroom again.

“I just hoped students would know that when I was in the classroom, they understood that I wanted to be there,” Keith-Morrison said. “Even if it’s just talking to them and giving them advice about graduation, I want them to know that I’m here for them.”