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A Last Leaving
Lexington resident Betty Morgan will leave her brain to science

by Elizabeth K. Hansen

Memories spill from Betty Morgan's mind as she explains why she's part of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center's control group--volunteers who have agreed to donate their brains to science. These memories include her childhood in the Australian outback; her days as a nurse in the South Pacific during World War II where she met her husband, Dr. William "Bill" Morgan; the 35 years the two worked together in his medical practice in Paris, Kentucky; Bill's battle with Alzheimer's disease and his death a dozen winters ago; her travels around the world since then and her return to school as a Donovan Scholar at the University of Kentucky.

Although she loves talking about her past adventures, Morgan, in agreeing to donate her brain for research after she dies, has made a special present to the future.

"It just seemed the right thing to do. I'm a nurse and I guess it's a little pay back," she says. "I would like to have donated Bill's, but nobody asked me for it." Donating her own brain is the next best thing, she explains.

In addition to her former career as a nurse, Morgan is also a poet. Her husband's illness inspired her first poems, which were published in nursing journals and collected in a chapbook titled Alzheimer's Alters Us All.

"I saw little things slipping," Morgan said. "Then one day Bill could not remember what normal blood pressure was. He was losing his memory." They closed the medical practice and Morgan cared for him at home for seven years. "Finally I couldn't do it any longer." He was admitted to the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Lexington where he died 14 months later.

Since then, Morgan has traveled to Europe, Asia and Africa. Aboard a freighter she visited Australia and islands in the South Pacific, including one called Santo near Guadalcanal where she had been in charge of an operating room for three years as a captain in the Army Nurse Corps.

"Travel makes me write," says Morgan, who documents her travels in verse. Now 84, she no longer goes abroad but continues to travel throughout the United States, often participating in Elderhostel programs. Between trips, she takes classes at the University of Kentucky through the Donovan Scholars program.

She delights in sharing her poetry. Last winter she hosted 10 poetry readings for small groups of her neighbors. Her favorite audience, though, is fifth graders from the Fayette County schools' Quest program for gifted students. She hosts tea parties at her apartment for a dozen of them and reads her poems. "Just having those kids up once or twice a year, that's an absolute joy for me," Morgan says.

Morgan sees her poetry as "just a little gift that was given to me in my later years that was fun to have. It changed my life. When you're a poet, people don't treat you like an old lady." Here is the final verse of "A Last Leaving," a poem about her decision to donate her brain to UK after her death:

In a few years I'll die.
Scientists will take my brain
and do their comparisons.
I hope they find it normal enough,
but
I'll never know.

For more on Alzheimer's disease projects at the University of Kentucky: