Danielle Kelly and Taylor Morris finding a new way to live their lives

2013-04-07T16:30:00Z 2013-09-18T10:03:55Z Danielle Kelly and Taylor Morris finding a new way to live their livesBy HOLLY HUDSON, holly.hudson@wcfcourier.com Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

Reprinted from BTrue magazine.

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- During a recent visit home to celebrate her 24th birthday with family and friends, Danielle Kelly talked about how she dealt with the news --- and the reality --- of the injuries suffered by her long-time boyfriend.

Taylor Morris had four limbs amputated after a bomb blast while serving in Afghanistan.

Kelly and Morris met when both were in junior high in Cedar Falls.

"He went to Holmes, and I went to Peet."

Sports and mutual friends brought them together.

"We were hanging out in a big group," Kelly said. "After a while, we were talking more outside of the group and spending more time together outside of the group."

The couple started dating during their junior year in high school.

"I broke up with him. It was really awkward. I thought, 'This isn't going to work.'"

In high school, Kelly got her certified nursing assistant's license and worked at Windsor Nursing Home. Morris talked about going into the military.

"He signed up his junior year," Kelly said. "It was his decision. We were just in a high school relationship at that point. We are both pretty level headed and didn't want to plan our futures around a high school relationship.

"Taylor never saw himself going to college. He wanted a break after high school. He wanted to go be a boy, do some fun things, get his hands dirty."

Kelly and Morris graduated in 2007. In August of that year he left for Navy boot camp, and she left for the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

"Boot camp was hard," Kelly said. "It was the worst. I remember we'd be in the middle of a conversation, and my phone would die. I'd be like 'Nooo!'"

The two kept in touch as Morris traveled around the country receiving training as an explosive ordnance disposal technician, and Kelly worked in home health care while attending college.

"We made a deal with each other that we would see each other every few months. It turned out to be like every six weeks to two months."

After graduating with a degree in business management, Kelly got her real estate license and began living and working in Des Moines.

In January 2012, he deployed.

"It was Friday the 13th," Kelly said. "It was definitely hard. I don't know if I was just naive to how dangerous it was over there. I got phone calls and emails every two or three days. That made it easier.

"I must have been crazy or delusional. I'd tell Taylor to tell me everything. We'd just tell each other about our days. I don't know why I was so calm about it. Looking back, maybe not being worried and scared was a good thing."

On May 3, 2012, Kelly was in Des Moines riding to work with a friend when her phone rang. She recognized the number that appeared on her cell phone as coming from Virginia Beach. It was one of Taylor's military buddies.

"I answered and rambled off like a million questions," Kelly said. "Then he said, 'I'm just calling to tell you there was an accident today.' It didn't even cross my mind that it was Taylor. I thought he was just keeping us in the loop.

"Then he said, 'It was Taylor. He lost his legs,'" she said. "I screamed and dropped the phone.

"He said Taylor lost both legs and, he believed, both arms. My friend pulled over. She knew something was wrong. He told her everything.

"And what was so bad was he couldn't get a hold of Taylor's parents, so we had to basically sit there and wait for him to repeatedly call them."

Morris, an explosive ordnance disposal expert, lost portions of all four limbs in as Afghanistan bomb blast while clearing an area for a group of U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers.

After everyone was notified, Kelly concentrated on getting home.

"I remember packing a bag of clothes. I must have been completely out of it," she said. "I packed a scarf, a swimsuit, a sweatshirt and a skirt. I just wanted to get back to Cedar Falls."

It was days before Kelly and Morris' parents would be able to join Taylor at Walter Reed Army Medical Center near Washington D.C.

"It was the weirdest feeling," she said. "One second I was angry and confused, and I wanted to run as far and as fast as I could. The next second I had no energy at all and couldn't have moved my body if I wanted to. I would be breaking down and crying, and then I'd be numb and all my tears were gone. Then I'd cycle through again. Those were the hardest days."

The travelers battled flight delays and cancellations and fielded phone calls from people giving differing descriptions of Morris's injuries.

"It was hard," Kelly said. "Different people had different details. Every phone call it would change."

Morris, Kelly and his parents all arrived at the hospital within about an hour of each other.

"When I thought about seeing him, I didn't know if I'd get sick, if I would break down and cry, if I'd want to go home, if I'd faint.

"But when I did see him, even with all those tubes --- tubes in his nose, his neck, his arms --- a neck brace and, obviously, limbs missing, I had this instant, overwhelming feeling that everything was going to be OK.

"He was groggy, but he was still with it. And he didn't have a scratch on him. The IED literally just took his limbs. There wasn't anything else wrong with him."

Kelly describes the first few days in the hospital as a whirlwind.

"It was like a revolving door," she said. "So many people wanted to help him.

"Those days were really long. It was information overload. People were telling us what to expect, what we needed to do. It was definitely a lot."

Through it all, Kelly was confident things would be OK.

"I don't live in this fairy tale world," she said. "But I know we will be able to do the majority of what we want to do. We just have to figure out a new way to do it. We'll just have to be a team like we've always been. We will have the life we've always wanted, just in a different manner."

The pair has drawn an incredible amount of attention and shared once-in-a-lifetime experiences during Morris's recovery, including visits with President Barack Obama, Morris receiving the Purple Heart, a welcome-home parade and attending the presidential inauguration.

"A lot of different opportunities have come up," Kelly said. "That's better than the alternative of being bored. I see a lot of it as rehab. We went to the Super Bowl, and walking in crowds is one of the hardest things for Taylor. It's good practice. Rehab is living your life how you want to live it."

Kelly has no doubts where her journey with Morris will take her.

"We will end up back in Iowa. I have five siblings, and he has four. We are both family oriented.

"Taylor wants to rehab enough to find a job, to do a job. A job he loves to do. I want to come back and get back to work in real estate. Live a normal life."

Kelly credits her close relationship with Morris with helping her through the most difficult times.

"What got me through everything, honestly, is Taylor and I work good together and we like being together, which helps when you are together 24-7.

"We take one day at a time," she said. "We set little goals. You can't look at the big picture. It's just too traumatic. You have to pick it apart. Some days are hour by hour, minute by minute. You take a deep breath, and you can't forget the little things. We watch movies and our shows. We like to laugh."

And Kelly is grateful for the support system that has formed around them made up of family, close friends from high school and Morris's military colleagues.

"We can't be appreciative enough," she said. "To have all our family and friends with us, it's unspeakable how much that helped. I pray that everyone else has the same."

Copyright 2015 Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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