Striking for good
By John Joyce
Published in News on May 13, 2014 1:46 PM
Taylor Morawski stifles a laugh as a family friend breaks into an improvised auctioneer chant during a fundraiser held at AMF Boulevard Lanes on Thursday. More than $1,600 was raised to help the Morawski family cover medical costs incurred by Ms. Morawski's several surgeries.
Friends, family and supporters gather at AMF Boulevard Lanes to raise funds to support Taylor's battle. More than $1,600 was raised.
Taylor Morawski ducks under their wrapped wrists and jutting elbows.
She steps over their colorful shoes and slips easily behind the backs of their bowling league shirts with logos and stenciled names.
She pops up under the arm of her mother, Brenda, and at the hip of her father, Mike.
She shares an embrace with her boyfriend, Tyler King.
Nearly 100 people converged on the AMF Boulevard Lanes on Thursday.
Taylor made her rounds to greet each of them.
She knew that they were there for her -- to raise money playing the sport they love more than any other; to support the girl they love, too.
Taylor, 18, has had four brain surgeries in recent months -- 21 since she was 2 days old -- and the medical bills are mounting.
A scotch doubles tournament and auction at the bowling center Thursday raised $1,600 to help offset the debt.
But it is the community's outpouring of love and support -- not the money -- that the Morawskis count among their most coveted blessings.
So were the twin girls born to them 18 years ago.
Brenda reaches across a table and touches her husband's arm.
Mike can't help himself.
His spelling of his daughter's many medical conditions are close, but, like his recollections of dates and birthdays, they are off by a letter here, a number there.
Typical father. Atypical family.
"A family with a special needs child is a special needs family," Mrs. Morawski said.
Taylor suffers from Arnold Chiari II, occipital encephlocele, hydrocephalus and other conditions.
She has endured 25 brain and eye surgeries.
Doctors said she would never walk -- that she would never speak and go through life mentally challenged.
They said that, eventually, she would be completely blind.
Taylor proved them wrong.
She might have double vision and lack depth perception, but she is neither blind nor mentally challenged.
She may be classified as "special needs," but those who know her say she is special in other ways.
Just ask her sister -- her twin and best friend, Brooke.
The girls grew up playing softball together, many times on teams coached by their father.
"People just root for her," Brooke said.
Like when the girls would travel to away games -- not knowing that the opposing squad knew what Taylor was up against.
"The other teams would let her get a hit and the people in the stands would cheer," Brooke said. "They cheered for her louder than they did for their own team."
Brooke, a senior at Eastern Wayne High School and catcher for the school's softball team, also serves as Taylor's protector.
Over the years she has warded off bullies, although they have been few, and even served to help Taylor escape her sometimes "overprotective" parents.
"I'd take her away, outside," she said. "Even now, I take her driving. We go out to dinner."
Brooke said a sibling of someone with special needs needs to be patient -- but should also encourage them to "do stuff out of their comfort zone."
"By being there and being their friend, it lets them know everything is going to be OK," she said.
Carrying twins, Brenda already knew her pregnancy was considered "high risk."
But she had no idea, until Taylor was born, what her child -- her family -- would face.
Taylor's several conditions center around her brain -- her brain sits lower on the brain stem than the average person's, and the ventricles that cycle brain fluid to and from the brain and around the skull are constricted, creating pressure that needs to be relieved.
"She has stints put in here, and here," she said. "The tubes then run down the sides of her neck into her abdominal area."
Recently, the stints have begun to have trouble staying open, requiring a new round of surgeries.
Taylor takes it in stride.
And while her parents are proud that she has beaten the odds -- that she is set to graduate from the Wayne School of Engineering this summer -- they can't shake their child's first few days when her future was not so certain.
Taylor and Brooke were separated at birth, due to Taylor's brain complications.
That didn't sit well with Brenda, who, with Brooke in her arms, would not be kept away from her other little girl.
Mike, an insurance adjuster for National General Insurance, worked from the hospital the first few days after Taylor and Brooke were born.
After the diagnoses and surgeries the doctors had recommended institutionalizing Taylor.
Brenda would not allow it.
"We were going to take her home," she said.
So she researched each of Taylor's conditions -- and took charge of her therapy, and learned, alongside her child's doctors, as they treated her over the years.
"I've learned a lot about the brain, about physical therapy, occupational therapy, play therapy," she said.
She took charge of Taylor's education, too.
She came up with her individualized education plan (IEP) and worked with her teachers in school, each of whom she said were just wonderful with Taylor.
Eventually, Brenda was able to return to work.
Mike, who is more laid back in his demeanor, said his wife has always been a natural force.
It was 1977 at Greenwood Junior High School. She was a cheerleader. He played football.
They shared just one date in high school.
"I managed to mess that up, too," he said.
Each would go on to marry someone else and later divorce.
Through a mutual friend, they reunited years later.
Morawski adopted Brenda's fist daughter, Mary Beth, now 24.
They had a set of twins, Brooke and Taylor.
They have been married 18 years.
"Brooke was more with me and Taylor with Brenda, obviously," he said.
He has coached the girls in softball most of their lives.
That Brooke might be the only one with a real future in the sport -- she will be trying out for Pitt (Community College) as a freshman this summer -- never kept him from allowing Taylor to have the game she loved as part of her life.
Taylor's conditions and many surgeries always impacted her ability to play, but never her desire.
As with many aspects of life, she had to learn unique ways to overcome her physical limitations.
"She can't judge the distance or speed of the ball," he said.
Taylor had to learn to time the pitcher's arm movements with the swing of her bat to learn to hit.
This year, even though she was physically unable to play, her high school softball coach, T.J. Lancaster, allowed Taylor to walk on the field as a senior.
Her fans say she has a kind heart and the spirit of a competitor.
And that, her family says, is how she will continue to beat the disease that has added to -- and challenged -- her life.
One hit at a time.