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Survival catches Maury's attention

September 15, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Nine years ago, Misti Morningstar Lucente's compact car was hit broadside by a tractor-trailer that ran a red light in Gaithersburg, Md., an accident that few of the doctors and nurses who treated her thought she would survive, much less walk again.

She was in a coma for three-and-a-half months.

Her mother, Louise Morningstar of 327 Valley View Drive, Waynesboro, never gave up hope that her daughter would not only survive and walk again, but would live a normal life. She credits her love, along with some perfume, pizza and hamburgers with reviving her daughter.

Today Misti walks with just a slight bit of unsteadiness and a speech that slows a bit at times. Her life is that of a normal 27-year-old mother of a very active 15-month-old boy named Christian. She lives with her husband and son in Ijamsville, Md.

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Misti will soon appear on an episode of the Maury Povich television talk show featuring a segment on people who have cheated death. Show officials say a definite broadcast date has not been set. The show is in pre-production, they said. Louise Morningstar said it will air in the next six weeks.

Misti said she recalls nothing about the accident. "I don't remember seeing the truck," she said.

Her parents were vacationing in the Caribbean when they got the call.

"When we got to the hospital, all they told us was that she was still alive," Louise Morningstar said.

Misti spent the first month in the intensive care unit of a Bethesda, Md., hospital, then was transferred by ambulance to a hospital near Philadelphia. She said she remembers fading in and out of reality at times and recalls some of the ambulance ride to Philadelphia.

Her mother moved to a nearby hotel. Every day she tried to wake her daughter. She talked to her, sprayed her room with perfume used by Misti's classmates at Mercersburg Academy, and passed slices of pizza and McDonald's hamburgers, her favorite foods, under her nose trying to jog her memory.

"The nurses told me it was no use, that I should go home. I told them I wouldn't give up, that I knew she would get better," her mother said.

She and her daughter had previously learned sign language and she tried to communicate by finger-spelling words on her daughter's hand. A sign language teacher came in one day and finger-spelled Misti's name. That was the moment when Misti first started to come around, her mother said.

"She spelled it `Mitzi' and Misti corrected her with her fingers," her mother said.

Misti said she's not sure how much of her life before the crash will be lost forever in her memory.

"I remember some of the good times, a lot of little things," she said.

After recovering, she finished high school and graduated in 1993 with a degree in quantitative business analysis from Penn State. She worked for a while in Philadelphia before getting married.

Louise Morningstar said she has written a 400-page book about the experience. The book is expected to come out next spring, she said.

Povich show officials learned of Misti's story when they called her mother's literary agent in New York seeking leads to subjects that the show could profile.

Louise Morningstar and her husband, Harry Sr., also have two sons, both older than Misti.

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