Woody Morgan Returns to Shepherd Center – This Time as a Doctor
Dr. Morgan will lead Shepherd Center’s Comprehensive Rehabilitation Unit.
In 2008, Woody Morgan – then a sophomore at UGA – waded into the Gulf of Mexico. He handed his sunglasses to a friend, dove into a cresting wave, and didn’t return to consciousness until the next day in the ICU at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, Florida. His dive into what turned out to be very shallow water resulted in a paralyzing incomplete C5-C6 spinal cord injury. A week after his injury, Woody came to Shepherd Center.
Now, 15 years later, he’s back – but this time as the attending physician in Shepherd Center’s Comprehensive Rehabilitation Unit (CRU), where he will provide care for patients experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, MS, and other neurological conditions.
“Dr. Morgan has a wealth of experience and is board certified in both brain injury and spinal cord injury medicine, which makes him the ideal physician to care for patients in our CRU,” said Michael Yochelson, M.D., MBA, chief medical officer at Shepherd Center. “As a former Shepherd Center patient, Dr. Morgan also can connect with patients and families in a unique way because he understands what they’re going through at this point in their lives. We’re excited to have him join us as we help patients and families begin again after injury and illness.”
Dr. Morgan attended medical school at Tulane University School of Medicine, after which he completed his residency training in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) at Harvard Medical School, followed by a fellowship in spinal cord injury medicine at Craig Hospital/University of Colorado. Most recently, Dr. Morgan served as assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and medical director of the spinal cord injury program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Before his injury, Dr. Morgan planned to study orthopedics and sports medicine. His career changed course after working with the physiatrists while he was a patient at Shepherd Center. John Lin, M.D., medical director of the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program, in particular, inspired Dr. Morgan. Dr. Lin has paralysis and uses a wheelchair due to an aneurysm-like condition known as epidural arteriovenous malformation. He also was a patient at Shepherd Center nearly two decades ago.
“Just seeing Dr. Lin doing his job was big,” Woody says. “He has a different injury level than I do, but watching how he made things work, I realized I'm not the first; I'm not reinventing the wheel. I saw what was possible.”
Watching Dr. Lin use creative solutions to accommodate his abilities also prepared Woody for the juggling he’d have to learn in medical school. As Woody puts it: “First, I had to learn the textbook way of doing something. Then, I had to figure out how to adapt that approach so that it could work for me.”
Of course, using a wheelchair also has its advantages when working with patients who have spinal cord injuries.
“We go into a room, and we have some credibility right away,” Dr. Morgan says. “It can help you connect quicker, can mean a little something extra with patients sometimes, knowing that you’ve been where they are.”
Woody remembers public outings as a patient, such as attending an Atlanta Braves game, that helped him learn to navigate the outside world again. He also remembers the bonds he formed with patients and staff – a game-changer he hopes to replicate as a physician.
"It’s a sense of community we build,” he says. “I understand that patients still have the same dreams and wants out of life. As a physician, I don’t want to discourage. I want to help patients adapt and facilitate ways for patients to make their goals possible. I want to facilitate hope.”
Written by Phillip Jordan and Kerry Ludlam
Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.