Michael Morris, 52, is a jokester, a flirt and a little bit of a rebel. He’s popular and cares about the people around him. But not so long ago, he was frustrated and angry because he could no longer live as independently as he had in the past.
For many years, Michael, who has cerebral palsy, lived in a Wichita apartment community for people with disabilities. He scheduled his own staff to assist him and got by with minimal support. He had a circle of friends and was proud of his home and independence.
As Michael got older, his cerebral palsy and condition worsened, and it became more difficult for him to live independently. Charley Havice, his guardian, was unhappy with the limited care Michael received and wanted him to move to a Creative Community Living group home in El Dorado. Michael, however, didn’t want to give up his independence.
“Trying to satisfy him, I kept him there for several more years,” Charley said. “Finally, he slipped from his wheelchair and fell and didn’t receive help for four or five hours. He was in the hospital and very sick, and after that, I decided he just had to have more support.”
In March 2009, Michael moved into a CCL residence at 515 Eunice in El Dorado. Five other men also live there, with staff members always present to assist them.
“Michael experienced a lot of frustration in the beginning,” said Tammy Haug, team leader at 515 when he moved there and now his case manager. “He had lived in his own home and had staff that just came in several times during the day. It was frustrating for him to live in a group home with staff around all the time.
“When he first came, he resisted so many things,” Tammy continued. “He refused to go to the dentist and hadn’t gone for a long time. He refused to do physical therapy. He didn’t like being repositioned every two hours. He was resistant to doing activities and going places.”
Michael expressed his feelings through yelling, turning red, attempting to engage others in an argument, running into people with his motorized wheelchair, or going to his room and slamming the door.
But as Michael spent time in his new environment, his behavior began to change.
“It started with dental care,” Tammy said. “He went to the dentist, and it wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be. Now he is so proud of how his teeth look. It’s not a problem at all if he needs dental care.
“Michael has a very good relationship with the physical therapy aide – a cute young girl. He just beams when he sees her and doesn’t mind having physical therapy. He has been somewhat resistant to wearing splints on his hands and elbow, but he’ll let the physical therapy aide put them on.” (The splints keep the contractures from worsening or at least slow the deterioration.)
Thanks to physical therapy, Michael has regained the use of one arm, his guardian says. He operates his motorized wheelchair with that elbow.
Charley said he used to worry about Michael’s diet – whether he had enough to eat and if his meals were nutritious. Michael has gained weight in the last two years, putting Charley’s mind at ease.
Another change is the amount of time Michael spends in the community.
“Michael has gotten used to going more places,” Tammy said. “He went to a wrestling match several months ago, and he’s still talking about it. A couple weeks ago he went to an indoor football game in Wichita and loved it.”
Amy Peterson, his current team leader, attended the same Wichita Wild football game with her family. “Michael was screaming and laughing and having the best time,” she said.
Once Michael realized he could choose things he really wanted to do, Tammy said he became more excited. “He could see the opportunities that were in front of him.”
On Michael’s birthday in April, one of his favorite gifts was a pet bird. He had had one in the past and was overjoyed to have another feathered friend.
“He loves that bird,” Amy said. “It chirps all the time and is the most spoiled bird ever. He shows it to everyone who comes to his house.”
Another wish of Michael’s – getting a tattoo – has met some resistance but is probably going to happen. His doctor gave her approval, and his guardian was consulted.
“I’m not a fan of tattoos, but if it’s something Michael really wants to do, I’m not going to tell him no,” Charley said.
When staff members took him to a business in El Dorado to get his tattoo, Michael’s wheelchair was too large for the space where tattooing is done. That meant no tattoo. Now his staff is checking into possible places in Wichita.
Amy said that Michael still has his good days and bad days, but he has been at CCL long enough to know the staff well and to realize he can trust them. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t sometimes challenge them.
“His food is supposed to be chopped small,” she said. “We have to do it a bite at a time or he won’t eat it. He doesn’t want it all chopped up at once on his plate. Maybe that’s his way of being independent.”
Amy said Michael is often concerned about the people around him.
“If another individual is not feeling well, he’ll get our attention and ask how he is doing. At the day center, he watches everything and knows what’s going on. Sometimes he worries about the other individuals.”
Occasionally, some of Michael’s friends from Wichita visit him – several came to his last birthday party – and he sometimes goes to see them.
“There are very few people who meet Michael who don’t love him,” Tammy said. “Michael likes to joke and likes to tease and have people tease him. He is a neat guy.”
Charley and his wife, Thelma, stop by once or twice a month to visit Michael. Charley is convinced he made the right decision when he moved Michael to El Dorado.
“The support here has been tops,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about Michael now. They keep me informed of everything. Tammy contacts me no matter what he wants. I don’t control his money anymore – I signed that over to CCL – but they still check with me about buying things. They ask me about everything, which I appreciate.”
Charley complimented the staff for learning to communicate so well with Michael, who has a significant hearing impairment.
“He speaks some words, and once people get to know him, they understand him,” Tammy explained. “He uses head movements to point things out to you. Most of the time he uses a communication board” – which involves holding a stick in his mouth and pointing to letters on a small board to spell words.
When staff members speak to Michael, they get right in front of him and speak slowly and distinctly so he can read their lips. Hand gestures are frequently used.
Charley said he was also pleased that CCL uses a lift to get Michael in and out of his wheelchair.
“They are cautious,” he said. “That’s another thing I like.”
Charley believes that Michael has also come to appreciate the life he experiences now.
“I think he is content,” he said. “He likes the girls (staff). They pick on him (tease him), and that’s good.”
When Charley became Michael’s guardian back in 1994, he remembers that he was advised to not let himself become attached to Michael.
“That’s impossible,” he said. “You can’t help it.”
Although Michael no longer lives as independently as he once did, he still makes choices and is an active participant in the El Dorado community. And thanks to Michael’s fun-loving, caring personality, he has a network of friends to enrich his life.