Three months ago Jacob Morris was competing in the 16-17 Teenage Boys division at the 2019 CrossFit Games. But while Morris was competing against of the best athletes in the world, many of those watching likely did not know what Morris was going through with his health.
Two years ago Morris was told that he had a heart murmur and a leaky valve due to a heart defect called Bicuspid Aortic Value. After consulting with his doctor it was determined he could compete at the CrossFit Games. Morris would end up taking 7th in his age group.
Six weeks later Morris’ heart started acting up again. It was then determined that surgery was necessary.
Yesterday, Morris had heart surgery.
The surgery lasted nine hours. He was under for 11 hours and was on bypass for just over five hours. The doctors have said the surgery went well. Last night his breathing tube was removed and is doing better this morning.
We caught up with Morris prior to his surgery. Here is our interview where we talked about his experience at the Games and his upcoming surgery.
The Barbell Spin: This year you qualified for your first CrossFit Games in the 16-17 division after competing in the Open since you were 14 years old. Explain what it meant to you to earn your first trip to the CrossFit Games.
Jacob Morris: It meant so much to make it to the games because it was my goal for the last 3 years!! When I finally got that invitation it was truly a dream come true! It was kind of surreal and a very powerful moment in my life. I knew I was in the best shape of my life and seeing all that hard work pay off meant the world to me. It was a special time.
TBS: While you had the best season in terms of CrossFit, you were dealing with some medical issues. Can you share what you found out last November?
JM: Two years ago I went to the cardiologist due to a abnormal EKG my pediatrician did on me because I am a CrossFit athlete.To be safe she wanted me to go and see a cardiologist. At that appointment my cardiologist told me my EKG was fine and was abnormal because I am an athlete. She then listened to my heart and made me lay down, sit and stand while she listened. She told me and my mom that I had a heart murmur and a leaky valve and that she wanted me to get an echo right then. After that she sat us down and told me I had a heart defect called Bicuspid Aortic Valve and an enlarged heart with a high-moderate regurgitation of the aortic valve. I was in shock with this news because I never had one symptom and I am very healthy.
TBS: Ultimately, your doctor said that it was safe to compete at the Games. Did you have any concerns about competing, knowing of the looming health issue?
JM: To be completely honest no. I had no concerns and I actually forgot that I had a heart defect for a little while because I didn’t have any noticeable symptoms.
TBS: You ended up finishing in 7th place. Were you able to compete fully or did you have any issues arise during the competition?
JM: I didn’t really have any medical issues during the Games, but its hard to know if I competed fully because I truly don’t know how much my heart has actually affected me during my workouts. At the time of the Games 46% of the blood that is pumped out of my aortic valve regurgitates back into my left ventricle, so my heart has to work even harder to pump blood.
TBS: Fast forward six weeks after the Games, you woke up one night not being able to breathe. After going back to the doctor, you were told you needed a heart valve replacement. What was your initial reaction to that news?
JM: I don’t think it actually set in that I was having surgery until about a week after receiving the news. When I was told it was time to have the surgery I had no emotions at all. I think I am a late processor. After it sunk in I was scared, worried about how long the surgery is (6-8 hours), the recovery time and the pain. It was also very hard to see my parents worry about me. I didn’t want them to see me all sad and stuff because I knew this was hard for them so I kept a lot of my emotions to myself.
TBS: You just shared that your surgery has been moved back a month because of a cold. What has life been like since you found out you will need surgery?
JM: My life has been focused on God, school and spending time with family/friends. I am just trying to make time go as fast as possible because the waiting has been very stressful for me. I do feel like this has been a time where I am growing closer to God and He has given me a lot of comfort. A lot of those worries I mentioned have gone and I know that is from God. He has also put a lot of people in my life that have been through this surgery or a similar one and that has brought me a lot of comfort. I find a lot of comfort in this because I feel one day He will use my story to help someone who is going through something similar the way He has with these people. That has given me a lot of hope. I feel very close to God right now.
TBS: Open heart surgery is a major surgery. Once it is completed, will you be able to return to normal life and possibly do CrossFit again?
JM: The recovery process is 8-12 weeks and I should feel pretty much back to normal by 14 weeks. This is a painful surgery for young athletic men because of the separating of the sternum. It causes a lot of pain because everything is muscular and tight. Once that heals I should be able to get back into CrossFit at a competitive level again!! My symptoms have been more significant as of lately, mostly just a lot of fatigue, so I am sure once I am healed I will feel so much better. I also decided to get something called the Ross Procedure done which means I will not have to be on blood thinners and that makes it much easier to compete at a higher level in CrossFit. I will need to have another open heart surgery in the future though as I am very young and at some point my valve will need to be worked on again. We are praying by then there will be other options for surgery but as of now it would be open-heart.