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Sharp Health News

Digging deep to survive

Sept. 14, 2021

Maurice Orange, rehab patient at Sharp Memorial Hospital

Maurice and Cheri Orange on their wedding day. Photo courtesy of Noble Ambience Photography.

“Here’s where my story starts: on the street where a police officer pronounced me dead,” says Maurice Orange, a 66-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, martial arts grandmaster and professional photographer.

However, Maurice’s story started long before that tragic moment and will continue — thankfully — long after.

It was a sunny August day in 2020. People were sticking close to home as the pandemic altered both lives and lifestyles, and Maurice decided to go out for a motorcycle ride.

The streets were quiet and open — perfect for a cruise — and he was in his element. Suddenly, an oncoming driver made an unexpected left turn in front of Maurice, leaving him without enough time to swerve or stop.

In a split instant, Maurice’s joy ride turned into one of trauma and pain. But if you ask him, he’ll tell you that it has led to a life of faith and forward thinking.

A truly life-altering event
“On the day of the accident, I wasn’t a big believer,” Maurice says. “But thousands of people dropped to their knees in prayer for me. I am here to bear witness that there’s power in prayer.”

The prayers came from people from all corners of Maurice’s life at the request of Cheri Orange, his wife who was then his fiancé, and according to Maurice, his “rescuer, in more ways than one.” She reached out to everyone in their circle to let them know about Maurice’s accident.

From the generations of students who had been trained by Maurice at his martial arts studio, to his photography clients, contacts in the world of flying — he’s also a pilot — and family and friends, Cheri made sure they held Maurice in their thoughts.

“We had people all over the world praying for him,” Cheri recalls. “People from every culture imaginable were sending love, healing thoughts and positive energy.”

And Maurice would need whatever was available to recover from his accident, one so traumatic that it was first labeled as a fatality. But that was before the first responders arrived and discovered just how much of a fighter Maurice would be.

Strong, both physically and spiritually
Maurice was transported from the scene of the accident to Sharp Memorial Hospital. His list of injuries seemed endless. Traumatic brain injury; “open book” broken pelvis; fractured arms and ribs; collapsed lung; dislocated shoulder; respiratory failure; and severe nerve damage in his left arm were among the 37 documented injuries.

Cheri was told she should prepare for the worst. However, there was one sign of hope: Maurice’s pupils were reactive. “I was told to be hopeful, yet realistic,” Cheri says.

“When Maurice arrived in the trauma bay, he was very near death and unable to maintain his blood pressure or breathing on his own,” says Dr. Michelle Hamel , a trauma and general surgeon in Sharp Memorial’s designated level II trauma center. “The trauma team worked very hard to stabilize him and stop any ongoing bleeding. He was found to have so many devastating injuries that we were concerned he wouldn’t survive, but he — and we — continued to fight.”

What’s more, Cheri knew that Maurice was strong, both physically and spiritually. She was certain he had a strong chance of survival.

She also recognized that the care he was receiving in the trauma center was exceptional. He required major surgeries, was sedated and placed on a ventilator. A screw was inserted in his scull to monitor pressure on his brain.

“The trauma team at Sharp saved his life,” Cheri says. “They were so awesome — they were like angels looking over him. Everything they did made him better.”

Maurice also credits his exceptional care and recovery to Cheri’s efforts to be there every day and make sure his care providers knew who he was and why he was important to so many. From playing his favorite music by Louis Armstrong and hanging one of his beloved fedoras in his room, to leaving the hospital and heading to the martial arts studio each evening to keep it running as he would want it, Cheri played a vital role.

“She was at the hospital every single day, taking notes and documenting everything in several three-ring binders she filled,” he says. “She put photos up in my room so that the doctors and nurses could know more about me. She always had faith I would recover. I really don’t think I’d be alive if it weren’t for her.”

Even still, Maurice was struggling with the trauma and loss he had experienced. For a very physically fit and active man, being confined to a hospital bed and surrounded by machinery was trying at times. He knew he had to dig deep into his reserves to persevere.

Digging deep for strength
And those reserves run deep. As a child, Maurice lived in poverty with eight siblings. He recalls having to get their shoes from a junkyard and sharing a bed with his five brothers. However, he also remembers his mother enrolling him in martial arts classes and encouraging him to “get in the car,” even when he didn’t feel like going to class or wanted to quit.

“The thing I hold true is that I am not a quitter,” he says. “Positive strength of mind leads to positive results — my entire life epitomizes that. So, I had to come up with a reason to get out of the hospital and continue to live my life — I had to do what my mother taught me to do when life got hard: I had to figuratively ‘get in the car.’”

And the best reason Maurice could uncover for doing that was getting married to Cheri, the woman he was in love with and whom he credited for saving his life. Maurice called Cheri’s dad and asked if he could have Cheri’s hand in marriage. Her dad’s response: “Yes, of course!”

Within two weeks of Maurice’s release from the hospital, they were married. Due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, friends and family members had to share in the moment from their cars, and Maurice was in a wheelchair for the ceremony, but not for long after.

Once home, Maurice was determined to sleep in his own bed in their upstairs bedroom rather than the hospital bed put in their front room. Cheri and her parents had prepared the house for his homecoming to ensure he’d be safe and comfortable. They even created a “COVID area” on their front porch so that visitors could safely come by to say hello. “They’ve shown me nothing but love,” he says.

But they weren’t thrilled when Maurice announced he’d be making his way upstairs. Cheri even threatened to call in the neighbors as backup to keep him from trying what seemed impossible — and dangerous — at the time. Maurice told her that was fine — they could act as his audience. After days of trying, he made it up to his room on the seventh day and never slept in that rented hospital bed again.

“I knew I could do it,” he says. “And now, I’m not only able to get myself upstairs, I walk without a limp.”

He is also back to photographing clients, spending time with students at the martial arts studio and giving motivational speeches. While he will continue with physical, cognitive and speech therapy at Sharp Rehabilitation, he is well on his way to being back to his healthy self.

“Maurice has come so much further than anyone expected,” Dr. Hamel says. “He has worked incredibly hard, and I attribute his amazing recovery to his strength and the love and support of his family."

However, Maurice’s recovery journey has not yet come to an end. He will soon have another tool to use as he continues to inspire his students and others.

Because of the severe damage to his left arm, he had his forearm amputated, which was performed by a specialist in Minnesota. He’ll return to Minnesota for a prosthetic fitting and training, and he can’t wait to show it off to his students and the Sharp doctors and nurses who cared for him.

“I cannot thank the team at Sharp trauma enough,” he says. “They performed a miracle with me. For someone who was expected not to survive, you sure wouldn’t know it now.”

For the news media: To talk with Maurice Orange and his care team about Maurice’s incredible recovery, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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