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Young accident victim makes progress

| Saturday, April 29, 2006

Surviving triplet Ethan Morrison is high-fiving doctors, mouthing the words to "Old McDonald" and watching "Winnie the Pooh," as he recovers from skull and leg fractures from the crash that killed his dad and two siblings.

"When Ethan came in, I would not have anticipated he would be at this point (this quickly)," Dr. Edward Barksdale Jr., a pediatric surgeon at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in Oakland, said Friday. "He's shown amazing resilience. He's a great fighter."

Ethan, 4, was the lone survivor April 13 when a 5,000-pound wood chipper broke loose from a dump truck on Route 8 in Richland and slammed into a minivan killing his father, Spencer Morrison, 37, of Cranberry, and siblings Garret and Alaina, both 4. No charges have been filed in the crash.

Still confined to his bed in the Intensive Care Unit, Ethan can sit up by himself and drink liquids. He is breathing on his own but cannot eat solid foods or speak due to a tracheostomy.

Ethan has undergone more than 15 hours of surgery to repair a depressed skull fracture, a broken thigh bone and multiple facial fractures. He may need plastic surgery and ear, nose and throat surgery, Barksdale said. Ethan also will require some physical therapy.

Although doctors do not know if Ethan has any permanent cognitive damage, he has made "tremendous progress" and doctors are encouraged about his long-term prognosis, Barksdale said.

Doctors also are using music therapy to aid in the boy's recovery. His mother, Nicole Morrison, played music tapes for him shortly after the accident and sings to him at his bedside.

"He's playing with stuffed animals, flirting with the nurses -- his cognitive function is great," Barksdale said. "He loves music and remembers the words. He gets agitated when the music stops."

The Rev. Thomas Burke, a Morrison family friend who attended college with Spencer and Nicole, said the family is at Ethan's bedside every allowable minute. Burke said he signed Ethan's cast -- green, his favorite color -- as the boy was watching a "Bob the Builder" cartoon.

"He's looking great," Burke said. "He's giving the family a sense of hope during this tragedy."

Ethan may leave intensive care soon, but still has a long road of recovery, Barksdale said.

"It's very heartwarming to see him singing 'Old McDonald' and 'A Whole New World,' " Barksdale said. "He's quite blessed to be alive."

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