Loran B. Morgan, M.D.: Perennial Medical Student and World Traveler
Star-Herald, October Edition, 2000, Scottsbluff, Nebraska
Where does he start? Where does he end? Loran B. Morgan, M.D., doesn’t think about those points, only about what he can do in between.
As a youngster growing up in Pipestone, Minn., Morgan decided he wanted to be a doctor. “I can’t remember ever wanting to be anything else,” he says, sitting in front of a computer in his Torrington, Wyoming, home.
According to Morgan, he was impressed by an uncle who was the chief surgeon at a veteran’s hospital in Chicago. “That’s the only thing I can think of that might have influenced me,” he says with a chuckle.
After graduating from high school in 1936, Morgan attended the University of Minnesota. He did his internship in Denver, where he met his wife, Beth, a Torrington native.
Beth had graduated as a registered nurse from St. Luke’s Hospital the year before Loran arrived to do his internship. Once they were married, she never worked full time as a nurse. She stayed home to raise the couple’s two children, both born at St. Lukes.
A member of the medical arm of the ROTC, Morgan joined the U.S. Army as a parachute battalion surgeon in December, 1943.
Initially, he intended to be an obstetrician, but the Army trained him in orthopedics. “I was really lucky,” Morgan says with a laugh. “I was one of the few who actually got to do what we were trained to do. Usually a lawyer was a rifleman, or a farmer was a clerk. It didn’t make much sense.”
In 1944, Loran and Beth were married and it wasn’t long before he was shipped overseas.
While in Europe, Morgan’s battalion was dropped behind enemy lines in Germany as part of the Varsity Operation, and participated in the Battle of the Bulge. It was during the jump over Germany that bullets tearing through the bottom of the plane ripped into a book and a packet of his photos. He still has the torn items.
His battalion jumped into Germany March 24, 1945. “We suffered major casualties in 20 minutes” he says of that unforgettable day. Out of 300 paratroopers, there were 100 wounded and 50 dead. “I was a battalion surgeon, the first doctor the wounded saw.”
According to Morgan, casualties from that jump near the Rhine were placed in a barn attached to the farmhouse they used as a medical headquarters.
“We didn’t lose even one of those men,” Morgan related in a 1998 oral history interview with the U.S. Army at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. His experiences were also used in a 1999 segment on the History Channel.
He has some harrowing experiences during the rest of his stay in Europe, and he didn’t get to enjoy VE Day because he already had orders for jumping into Japan. However, the war ended before his battalion made it to Asia.
After the war, Morgan and his family lived in Gilman, Colo., where he practiced medicine for two years. Then, in 1948, on a visit to Torrington, he was stricken with appendicitis. Dr. Krahl, who operated on him, persuaded Morgan to join his practice in the small Goshen County community. They were joined by Dr. Kildebek, a dentist, and built the Torrington Medical Group building at the corner of East A and 20th Street in Torrington.
Morgan was a general practitioner for about 14 years, before deciding it was time for a change.
“Things were moving so fast” he says. “Medicine was advancing and I didn’t think I wanted to go in that direction, so I switched to ophthalmology. It is more structured and more of a pure science.”
After about nine years in Torrington, Morgan returned to the classroom in 1957 to become an ophthalmologist. In 1960 he returned to practice in Torrington, where he remained until 1981 then he sold to Larry Goddard.
But, Morgan wasn’t through with learning. He enrolled at the University of Connecticut to study glaucoma and neuro ophthalmology for two years. After three months, he became assistant professor of the department.
“That was the acme of my career. We reviewed all kinds of things and MRIs were new then. It was real exciting,” he says. “We almost stayed, but our kids were far away, and we couldn’t leave them. For a nut like me, it would have been perfect.”
It was then that Morgan took up another phase of his career. He began using his medical ophthalmologic skills in various locations around the country. He would fly into an area and replace a doctor who was going on vacation, or for some other reason had to be gone for a week or a month.
He says that was a great experience because all he had to do was treat the patients. He didn’t have to worry about sick secretaries or any of the daily operations of the business.
“Oh, that was fun,” he says with a smile. “I did nothing but practice medicine.”
At one of his temporary stays in California, he was rewarded with an ice cream cake after he treated an eye injury patient on Friday afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday. It was unheard of in that area.
Morgan doesn’t hesitate to name his most memorable patient.
He jumps from his chair and takes a photo of a young woman from the wall.
”She is Karen Bays, and she had Stevens-Johnson Syndrome,” explains Morgan.
“She was four years old when she lost her sight because of the disease.”
According to Morgan, the eyelids grow to the eyeballs in this situation. The girl was referred to him in the early 1970’s, and during surgery at Goshen County Hospital in 1972, he successfully separated the eyelids and eyeballs with the aid of his invention, The Morgan Lens.
The apparatus resembles a contact lens with a tube attached to the center. A bag of medication is connected to the tube, allowing a constant flow to the injured eye.
Morgan developed the lens while serving as a civilian volunteer in Vietnam. He and other volunteers rotated to provide year round medical treatment to Vietnamese civilians from 1967 until 1970.
“There were so many eye injuries, and we didn’t have any resources to treat them all the way we wanted,” he explains. “You couldn’t expect a nurse to keep coming back to put in eye drops as often as they were needed. That’s where this idea came from. We could just hand the bag containing the medication.”
The Morgan Lens is now found in almost all emergency rooms in the country. His son, Dan, who lives in Missoula, Mont., manufactures and markets the lens.
Morgan and his children traveled to Behing, China, in the 1970’s to display the Morgan Lens at a seminar sponsored by the U.S. State Department.
Traveling isn’t just an international thing with Morgan. For several years while living in Torrington, he flew himself to Lincoln every Wednesday during one quarter each school year to lecture as an assistant professor of ophthalmology.
In addition to treating Torrington patients and teaching in Lincoln, Morgan made regular trips to the VA hospital in Hot Springs, South Dakota, for 20 years to do eye surgery. As part of his South Dakota trips for about five years, he stopped at the Pine Ridge Reservation to perform eye surgeries when needed.
He finally gave up flying when he moved to Connecticut. “I was afraid I might do something stupid,” he says with a laugh.
A few years ago, Morgan decided he’s done enough patient care, and now he and Beth spend part of their time in Torrington and part of the winter at their home in Palm Desert, California.
But he hasn’t quite finished with medicine. Right now, he is working with some other people on a computer program, exploring the connection between heartbeat and breathing. He attaches monitors to his fingers and studies graphics on the screen.
“I’m experimenting to see if it tells me anything,”, he says. “I don’t know what I’m doing yet, but it’s an awful lot of fun figuring it out.”
“All medicine is fascinating to me, and Torrington is a wonderful place to live. I’ve had time to enjoy the people and be part of the people. It’s been great.”