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Former Greenville teacher receives award

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PRESQUE ISLE — The University of Maine at Presque Isle and the Alumni Association recently presented Alumna Jeannette Beckwith Morrill of Shirley with the Distinguished Alumni Award, which is presented to an alumnus/alumna who has made long-term contributions to the Alumni Association or the university, or who has received professional recognition that has reflected positively on the campus.

Morrill graduated from the university with a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1974. While at UMPI, she was a staple in women’s volleyball, basketball and softball. After graduation, she taught physical education and health at Georges Valley High School in Thomaston and coached field hockey, winning a regional championship.

In 1977, she was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension, which is high blood pressure in the arteries to the lungs which weakens the heart. With no treatment and no cure, she was told she had a life expectancy of no more than two years. Forced to retire from teaching due to disability, Morrill was limited to an electric wheelchair and 24-hour oxygen. In 1978, she was able to take a new experimental drug, which was successful and greatly improved her quality of life.

She returned to teaching, this time at Greenville Middle/High School as a health and physical education teacher and later an applied life skills and safety education teacher, where she taught everything from cooking and sewing to CPR and hunter safety, to camping and outdoor skills. During those years, she coached middle school girls basketball, junior varsity girls basketball, varsity girls soccer (the team was an Eastern Maine Class D runner-up), and girls softball.

In addition, she taught American Heart Association CPR classes and was recognized with the Nancy Wynn Volunteer Award in 1985, and was also an emergency medical technician.

In 1997, Morrill’s condition stopped responding to the experimental drug and she was once again on medical disability retirement. She became a dedicated advocate for others suffering from pulmonary hypertension. She has served as the keynote speaker at the Pulmonary Hypertension Association International Conference in Orlando in 2014, at the Pulmonary Hypertension Association of Canada Conference in Montreal in 2015, was a patient speaker at a congressional luncheon in 2009 and 2011, and has spoken at numerous educational forums nationwide.

She published a book in June 2010 titled Living with Pulmonary Hypertension. In 2012, she was named the Outstanding Citizen of the Year by the Pulmonary Hypertension Association. She is also the founder of UPHill Journeys, which has a mission to support and sustain friends and neighbors in Maine and New Hampshire’s pulmonary hypertension community on their journey toward a cure. The organization is affiliated with Maine Medical Center in Portland.

It has been nearly 40 years since Morrill was diagnosed with PH; she is believed to be the person in the U.S. to live the longest with the disease.

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