CEDAR FALLS — Taylor Morris remembers and feels everything.
He remembers the explosion that blew him off the ground and took portions of all his limbs.
He still feels his hands — every knuckle, every fingernail — as though they’re knotted up inside him and being crushed, and the stinging where his legs were, as though they’ve fallen asleep.
But he feels other things, too, the recuperating Cedar Falls sailor told the Courier Wednesday in an exclusive interview from his hospital room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
He feels the love and support of a family and his girlfriend, Danielle Kelly, who have never left his side. Of his comrades in arms, including fellow amputees, at Walter Reed who give him hope for recovery. Of his brothers and sisters who are working to raise funds for whatever expenses may be ahead for his eventual homecoming. Of folks in Northeast Iowa he barely knew or never knew — from a classmate organizing a fundraiser at Tony’s La Pizzeria, to the lady in New Hampton who simply wanted to know where to send a check.
He wants people back home to know he appreciates the support, and that he’s determined to fight back to recover on his own terms.
“Tell folks back home I chose this path, and I knew it was dangerous going into it,” Morris said from his hospital room at Walter Reed via Skype and telephone. “And it’s unfortunate it happened. But I don’t want them to pity me or to feel bad. I’m doing fine, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get back to 100 percent.”
Morris, 23, a 2007 graduate of Cedar Falls High School and a U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal expert, suffered debilitating injuries from a bomb blast while on patrol with U.S. Army Special Forces troops in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. He lost portions of both legs, his left arm at the elbow and his right hand.
“So far, everything’s been ahead of schedule” in his recovery, Morris said. “It’s pretty miraculous.”
He had the stitches removed from his arms this week. The stitches in his legs will be gone by week’s end. That’s an important step toward one of his goals — being fitted with prosthetic limbs.
He’s looking forward to working with prosthetics, “and getting up on the legs and just being able to walk without a limp,” he said. “And just being as capable as I was before — with the prosthetics.”
Morris, a former wrestling standout at CFHS, was in excellent condition at the time of the blast. He went through extensive physical training for his ordnance disposal job ranging from parachute jumping to underwater diving.
And while he lost portions of all his limbs, his torso, his physical drivetrain, was untouched. “There was no fragmentation in the (explosive) device,“ he said.
“My face was pretty much untouched. And that’s a moneymaker,” he said jokingly.
During the interview, part of which was conducted over Skype, Morris sported a well-worn bomb disposal unit cap with pride.
Morris said he was conscious and alert throughout the May 3 ordeal, despite excruciating pain.
He was clearing a path for Special Forces comrades to take up defensive positions in a building prior to an attack from insurgents. He stepped on an improvised explosive device, undetected by his equipment.
“It threw me 10 feet in the air. I think I probably did about six back flips. Fortunately, I landed on my back,” he said.
He had been careful to distance himself from nearby soldiers, and his body screened them from injury when the IED detonated.
There was about 10 seconds of dead silence. It took about 20 minutes for comrades to get to him. For a time they couldn’t see him.
“The dust cloud, the ‘moon dust’ in that area, is really hard to see through. The dirt and dust really caked up on my sunglasses,” he said.
As comrades called out to him, he indicated he needed help. Another explosive ordnance disposal expert began carefully making his way towards Morris. When the area was cleared, a medic got to him.
Morphine and other drugs would not put him to sleep or deaden the pain — probably, he suspects, due to an adrenaline boost.
“They asked me how much it hurts on a scale of 1 to 10. I said, ‘Definitely a 10. It freaking hurts,’“ he said.
Medical crews and comrades were under fire as they came to his aid. The got him on a stretcher and he was evacuated by helicopter to a hospital in Kandahar and then to Germany. Somewhere between those final two stops, he finally lost consciousness after a doctor administered a strong sedative.
Morris may have hit a low point during his first couple of days at Walter Reed.
“The first day or two after I got there, I thought, ‘This really sucks now. I really felt bad about it,’ “ he said.
Then a wounded comrade talked to him.
“He said ‘Yeah, it really sucks. But every day, it’s going to get better and better. I promise you’ll feel better with every tube they pull out of your body and every time they take you off one of those meds. If you get up on that floor where all those other guys are,” rehabilitating and taking therapy, “‘ I’m telling you, you’re going to feel better and better.’
“And now, I’m feeling pretty good,” he said — about a 3 on 1-to-10 pain scale.
Family and friends have helped his recovery along.
“The support from the family has been as much as I could hope for,” Morris said. “My mom (Juli) has been here full time. My girlfriend (Danielle) has been here full time. She’s been my ‘non-medical aide.’ She’s really helped a lot.”
Sisters Molly and Claire have been organizing fundraisers at home. Brother Riley is in the Iowa National Guard, and his father, Dan, has been there as often as work permits. The family gathered with him on Memorial Day weekend.
He’s had visits from other wounded warriors; top military personnel, including the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps; U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley and actor Joe Mantegna, an advocate for returning veterans.
“He told me to come out to Hollywood when I got better and he could put me on his ‘Criminal Minds’ “ show,” Morris said, smiling.
And then there’s the support from friends, neighbors and total strangers in Waterloo-Cedar Falls
“Getting that support is awesome,” Morris said. “I can’t thank them enough.”
A major fundraiser for is being planned for mid-October, in addition to the Tony’s fundraiser June 7-10.Information about Morris’ progress can be found online at www.caringbridge.com/taylormorris and www.Taylormorris.org, where online cash donations can be made through PayPal. Checks also may be made out to the Taylor Morris Recovery Fund at any Veridian Credit Union branch.