Meet Mike Morea, a 58-year old accountant by trade, freelance high school sports reporter and football official by avocation, dedicated dog lover, and an all-around world-class resilient spirit. This is the story of how Mike has managed his Type I Diabetes and the attendant challenges of life as a bilateral amputee.
Growing Up with Diabetes
Mike lives in suburban Baltimore, Maryland, with his rescue dog and faithful companion Karma, but he was raised in a loving family and is one of three boys from Vandergrift, Pennsylvania. After experiencing the telltale signs of extreme weight loss and unrelenting thirst in his youth, he was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes at age 11. At the time, Mike continued to live his life as any other normal sports-obsessed boy would, spending his days in the pool or on the baseball diamond. Despite tragically losing his mother at a young age, Mike recalls a happy childhood and was encouraged to develop his passions for sports.
Dealing With Limb Loss
Just prior to March of 2013, he began having serious issues with a stubborn abscess on the bottom of his right foot leading to the amputation of his little toe. Despite this treatment, blood flow to the lower extremity was not sufficiently restored, and the end result was a below-the-knee amputation later that year. Dena and Ken, his dear childhood friends from Pittsburgh, appeared at the foot of his hospital bed shortly after surgery. Along with several other people in Mike’s close circle of family and friends, they had an undeniably strong message of support and hope for the future. Mike was going to recover and get well. It was non-negotiable.
The Long Road to Recovery Is Paved With Friendship
After his first amputation, Mike felt buoyed by the love he received from his many supporters and says that the adjustment was made easier and his load lightened by frequent contact; Mike understood the value of staying connected to the people invested in his well-being and recovery. He also continued to develop his 2LIV4 by cultivating his passion for sports by writing for a local newspaper covering boys and girls competitions.
Despite the trauma of losing a limb, Mike was busy hatching broader plans for this new life, determined as he was to live well. Fiercely protective of his independence, he took on the project of having his car modified with a left-foot gas pedal and passed a road licensing test. He also continued to develop his professional writing skills and had the distinct pleasure of interviewing the likes of such sports world greats as Rod Woodson, former Pittsburgh Steeler player and Pro Football Hall of Famer, and also Lou Holtz, the widely respected and storied football coach for Notre Dame and other teams in the collegiate realm. Another notable pro athlete interview was with Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins, following his first game returning to the NHL in DC. Mike continues to find both meaning and purpose in his writing and believes that being involved in youth sports has a direct positive influence on developing skills of leadership and self-confidence that last a lifetime.
The Loss of a Second Limb, Now What?
In 2019, another abscess formed on the bottom of Mike’s left foot and became problematic. An unsuccessful vascular bypass surgery on his remaining leg was a precursor to a new and unimaginable frontier of loss and an array of challenges that he could never have anticipated. After a shocking medical consultation where he learned that he would lose his left leg to amputation, he describes in painful detail his certainty that having to endure another limb loss would end him completely. Mike instinctively turned to his best friend Ken once again, telling him that he would rather be euthanized than live with the aftermath of losing a second leg. Ken and his wife headed southbound once again to lend support to Mike in his time of need. They told him that he most certainly did have the strength to get through his next surgery; they were absolutely convinced of it. He was assured by the two people that knew him best that he still had a lot of living to do and that they needed Mike to recover to the best of his ability. It was a difficult sell at first, but Mike trusted these two old friends completely, and so it came to be that he found the necessary courage to push through the new challenges he faced.
Thriving as a Bilateral Amputee
To say life became more difficult after surgery is a vast understatement. With no shortage of people willing to support him, friends and family made themselves available to assist Mike with any and all of the daily requirements of his new life, and the enduring gratitude he feels towards these people for their unending love and support during this critical period in his life is profound.
Mike stayed busy getting to work on his new reality; another call to the car modification company for new hand controls for his vehicle and another driving road test to modify his driver’s license for the third time. He added more grueling rehabilitation therapy sessions to his full schedule, and his friends never wavered in their availability to make sure he was always able to get where he needed to be. As the healing began, his natural drive to help others did not take long to resurface. He recalls attending rehab sessions with an individual struggling mightily with his new reality of life as an amputee. Mike was able to help alleviate his new friend’s suffering by pointing out that although extremely challenging, living with limb loss was not impossible to master. Through it all, Mike has learned that he has gained much more than he has lost, perhaps most importantly, the discovery of a bottomless well of love and support from the people closest to him as he faced his new life as a bilateral amputee. Mike made the choice to live bravely and fearlessly with his new circumstances, and he is a shining example of what it means to find your 2LIV4 in the face of great challenges.
Just three months after his second amputation, Mike returned to the press box for a high school football game. After getting his new prosthesis fitted and inspired by the force of his deep convictions, he drove himself to the school, navigated his wheelchair across the parking lot, and finally arrived at the base of a 13-step wooden staircase leading up to the press box. Some might consider this a daunting obstacle as the press box lacked any American with Disabilities Act modifications, so it was nothing less than sheer will and determination that propelled him out of his wheelchair and onto his bottom so that he could use his arms and prostheses to push, pull, and lift himself up each one of those steps. It was time to get back to work as a sports reporter.
Life Goes On: What Mike Wants You to Know
Mike is firm in his conviction that life is not over when you sustain a terrible injury or become disabled. He believes that managing his physical and mental health and healing through self-care while actively seeking the necessary assistance and guidance from friends, family, mental health specialists, and medical health professionals is the fastest road to recovery. Living like Mike means that when you are strong enough, when you are well enough, you literally hoist yourself up and find a way to be of service to others. Mike has experienced the loneliness that can set in for anyone, but people with disabilities may be especially vulnerable to isolation, and his answer to this challenge is to maintain and develop connections with others and to lead a purpose-driven life. Mike also would like to share the compelling message of his profound belief that life should be measured not by what we lose, but by the unwavering drive to find your place in the world regardless of physical circumstance, and to affirmatively answer the clarion call of being in service to others.
To this day, Mike continues to set goals for himself and then finds a way to smash his own personal best records. As Mike so wryly coins it, he is “walking proof” that life goes on and is not void of meaning or fulfillment when a person is injured or becomes disabled. Living like Mike means we all must play the hand we are dealt in the best way we can, and to try to remember along the way that without darkness, there can be no light, that despair can indeed be the birthplace of joy and meaning, and that connection to others and a positive attitude are the cornerstones that will continue to propel us forward.
For resources on prosthetics and living as an amputee, visit amputee-coalition.org.