Austin St. Stephens Runner Overcomes Open Heart Surgery

Josh Morgan competes at the 2017 Cedar Park Invitational prior to open heart surgery

Austin St. Stephens senior distance runner Josh Morgan has been running since the sixth grade.

"I went out to cross country practice and I fell in love with it," Morgan said. "Running has become a big part of my life; I've devoted a lot of time to it. I don't know what my life would be like without it, for it is one of my passions. I love the competitive aspect of it, the team bonding, and the constant drive to personally improve."

For seven years, there hasn't been much that could stop Morgan from running. It's what he did, and it's what he had become: A runner.

That was true until, one day, he started to have some problems.

"I was getting really short of breath in practice," Morgan said. "I would be gasping for air, and most of the time I would have to drop out of the workouts. My heart would beat really hard even when I wasn't working out."

What's more, Morgan's times began to regress.

"My senior cross country season was not going well in the few months leading up to the diagnosis," he said. "My times were not near as fast as they used to be. I was getting a lot slower and this made me realize that something wasn't right."

The symptoms that he was feeling for a year had become so severe, Morgan had to see a doctor.

"It feels so great having running back in my life"

Josh Morgan, Austin St. Stephens senior

"My general practice doctor, Dr. Jones, told me to go to a heart specialist because he said my heart sounded unusually loud."

Morgan's parents scheduled him to get an echocardiogram test, and that's when he was diagnosed with a tumor in his heart.

The situation was ironic -- that the one thing he had become passionate about and had learned to love was temporarily taken from him by his heart. Morgan's heart wouldn't let him run as the blockage was stopping his blood flow.

One day after receiving the diagnosis, Morgan went to the Heart Hospital of Austin at St. David's Round Rock Medical Center where Dr. Stephen Dewan performed open heart surgery.

However, neither a big tumor on his heart nor open heart surgery could keep Morgan from what he loved to do.
In just two and a half months after surgery, he was right back at it. In fact, his first meet was back on February 24, and he has competed in five meets since then. Not only is he back to running, he's also back to running fast again. 

In the 1600m, which happens to be his favorite event, Morgan has run 4:45: "It was a 16-second PR in my last race. It was so exciting!"

Although he had surgery and has a scar on his chest, Morgan is back to being a runner. For anybody that knows distance runners, you know they love to run shirtless. After Morgan's PR race you can see him whip that jersey right off as he celebrated a new personal best after overcoming adversity.

"It feels so great having running back in my life," Morgan said. "It is a huge passion of mine and I appreciate it so much more now because there was a little bit when I believed that I wouldn't be able to run again. I'm super motivated to get as fast as I can so I can look back and see how far I have come after my surgery."

Running will continue to be a part of Morgan's life as he will run in college.

"I am going to Trinity University for college," he said. "And I am going to be on the cross country and track team."

"Running definitely helped save my life , If it wasn't for that, I probably wouldn't have gone to get it checked out"

Josh Morgan, Austin St. Stephens senior

However, it's possible that he could still have one more race in a St. Stephens uniform. The Southwest Preparatory Conference (SPC) state track and field meet is this weekend, May 4-5, 2018 in Dallas. Morgan's St. Stephens team will be looking to defend their 2017 SPC team championship. There is a possibility that Morgan can compete one more time before he graduates.

"We have asked for him to be allowed to run the 3200 exhibition, (and) the SPC is still deciding," St. Stephens coach Paul Carrozza said.
There is yet to be a decision on that, but for Morgan, "It would mean so much to run SPC. I would be honored to run with my team and proud that I have overcome so much to get there. It would be a good and emotional conclusion to my comeback season."

The sport, hobby, and way of life that Morgan has given so much to has given so much back to him.

"Running definitely helped save my life because I pretty much only felt symptoms when I was running," Morgan said. "If it wasn't for that, I probably wouldn't have gone to get it checked out, and the tumor would have just kept growing until it was either too late or so bad that I would feel even worse symptoms."

One out of every 500 student-athletes have Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) and, per the American Heart Association, it is a common cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young people, including young athletes.

The one bit of advice Morgan would give to his peers is this: "I advise every high school athlete to get EKGs or ECHOs. It is good and safe to just get it checked out to make sure there are no problems that might get worse later on."