From trigger to trophy: Paralyzed first responder turns pain into purpose
Jaime Morales hopes his personal battle with PTSD will encourage others to seek help.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - He practices at home, the sounds of pellets breaking the silence from the hallway that has been repurposed into a home range.
“Just being consistent,” he says as he begins his regimen. “Consistently accurate.”
He tightens the air canister on the pistol, picks up a pellet and loads it, flips the switch - the air gun has an electronic trigger, not a mechanical one - raises the weapon and fires.
With a pop from the air gun quickly followed by a light ping of metal, the target spins, roughly 33 feet away from his outstretched arm, and he begins the process over again.
“You have to shoot 60 shots in 60 minutes,” he explains.
One down, 59 to go.
“So it’s not only an accuracy event,” he says, “it’s also an endurance event.”
The same could be said of Jaime Morales’s own journey from a time when each pull of the trigger set something off inside of him.
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As a Scott County Sheriff’s Deputy in 2018, Jaime Morales was hit by friendly fire during a confrontation with a fugitive from Florida who was stopped at a Georgetown rest area. The injury left Morales paralyzed and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I remember having nightmares about the situation,” he said. “I remember waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air.”
But Morales has turned his pain into purpose: Namely, the TikTok account he uses to motivate others and his efforts to combat the stigma that often keeps first responders suffering in silence.
“We’re finally realizing that we need help. We’re finally realizing that it’s OK to ask for help,” Morales told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer. “But I do think that pride and that ego still get in the way of a lot of us asking for help and reaching out.”
Therapy made a big difference for Morales after his injury, he said.
Prolonged exposure - one of the most effective PTSD treatments, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs - helped the deputy and Marine Corps veteran overcome what, since his injury, had terrified him.
He overcame the stimulus and trigger of gunfire by basically locking himself in the gun range, he said.
“At first it was hard,” he said. “Every shot that other people took down the line would make me jump. It was making my anxiety go up. I just breathed through it, calmed myself down.”
He eventually worked himself up to shooting.
Now as a member of the U.S. Paralympic Shooting Team he is using this unlikely outlet as a way to move forward. He often encourages others to find outlets and hobbies to help them, and not let their injuries, whether physical or invisible, define them.
“Life isn’t over just because you suffered an injury,” he said. “It’s good to know that life isn’t over just because a big change like that happens. There’s so much adaptability, there’s so much technology out there to help us out.
“So definitely don’t give up,” he said.
It is the message he wants to share - and the lesson he still practices daily - as he tries to live out the consistency and endurance for which he spends his time training.
Morales says he finished with the fourth-highest score in a recent competition with the U.S. National Paralympic Shooting Team in Colorado. He could even compete in the next Paralympics in France.
He is also beginning to train for Paralympic swimming.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness resources for public safety professionals
- CDC tips on how to cope as first responders
If You Know Someone in Crisis:
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741).
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