Elders and Youth Conference
keynote speaker finds hope,
despite alcohol disorder
By Alex DeMarban
Condensed by Native Village
Alaska: His mother drank alcohol
when she was pregnant with him.
Morgan Fawcett suffers from the agony
of fetal alcohol spectrum
disorder. His hips are slightly
deformed, so sitting too long
His spine curves where it
shouldn't, so his back aches
easily. He lacks muscle above
the roof of his mouth, so food
shoots from his nostrils when he
While Fawcett deals with all this and more, the 17-year-old Tlingit considers himself lucky. Unlike many FASD victims, he's aware of his problems. Physical therapy, light exercise and a cautious diet help make life more bearable.
And he's using his strong vocabulary and genius for flute-playing to travel around the country, speaking at events about the lifelong struggle he faces.
He gave the Oct. 19 keynote address at the First Alaskans Institute Elders and Youth Conference in Anchorage.
Later, he sat at a table with his adopted grandmother, selling CDs of his music, playing songs and telling passersbys how alcohol can ravage a fetus. Crowds gathered whenever he played his flutes. Melodies seemed to dance from his long fingers. They were beautiful, somehow mixing joy and sadness. Morgan's memory is poor because of the FASD, so each song is an original composition, he said.
Teenagers stopped and asked for
his autograph. Many took photos.
The vast majority of FASD sufferers are like Morgan. They don't have the associated facial features such as wide-set eyes and thin upper lips, said Deb Evensen, an FASD consultant. In fact, many people with FASD are never diagnosed with it. So while Alaska has one of the country's highest rates of known FASD cases, no one knows how common the problem truly is.
"Morgan Fawcett is awesome because he understands his own disability and his adoptive parents understand," she said. "If he didn't know what was wrong, he would have never gotten the help he needs."
Morgan seems happy. He believes he has a "gift" that makes him unique.
"Without my challenges that I've gone through, I would not have the lessons that I've had. And had I not learned these lessons, I would not be able to talk about them, to tell you about the pain I'm in, or the brain damage and how it has affected my life," he said.
Growing up wasn't easy.
"When I was smaller, I couldn't go outside," he said. "I was severely pigeon-toed because my hips are tilted, so my toes turned in. It was very hard to walk. And even then I had optical migraines from sunlight or fluorescent lighting."
And while he's articulate and talented with the flute, he has the overall brain function of an 11-year-old. He's now home schooled because he didn't do well in class.
A few years ago, Morgan's life changed dramatically when he visited a Native artifacts museum in California and asked if he could play the flute. A lady showed him how. After getting the hang of it, he created a song on the spot, as if he'd played for years. The lady, a longtime flute player, asked for his autograph.
About the same time, Morgan was researching his problems. Understanding his disorder lifted a huge weight from his shoulders.
Then one day three years
ago, it came to him.
"I want to teach kids to play the flute, and bring them that relief through the music and through an understanding of what's going on with them," he said.
Morgan said it hurts to see others suffering from FASD, but they also inspire him. Maybe his message will stop a pregnant woman from drinking. Maybe it will make life easier for others like him.
"And maybe I can save one child the pain that I go through each day," he said.