Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Maurice Howerton

Making the Most of a Second Chance

In April 2012, Maurice Howerton, a patient transporter at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), headed for the fitness center across the street after his shift. He was joined by Damon Coleman and Gregory Caison, who also worked at the hospital and played basketball with Maurice, then 24 years old, a few times a week.

The last thing Maurice remembers about that day was sipping from a bottle of Gatorade during a break in their fourth game. Without warning, he collapsed onto the court. Damon and Gregory quickly noticed he wasn’t breathing. Both were trained as emergency medical technicians and began CPR.

At one point, they tried an automated external defibrillator. When that didn’t resuscitate Maurice, they resumed CPR until medics arrived.

Maurice woke up that night in a room on Founders 8, the cardiac intensive care unit at HUP, surrounded by his family and some of his coworkers. He had suffered sudden cardiac arrest: his heart had stopped functioning, and he wasn’t breathing. If Damon and Gregory had not acted quickly, it’s likely that Maurice would have died.

Coming to Terms With a Lifelong Disease

Maurice Howerton and SonMaurice was 14 when he was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM. It causes the heart to become abnormally thick, making it harder for the heart to pump blood.

HCM currently has no cure and can cause a number of complications, including heart failure. The thickened heart muscle can eventually become too stiff to pump the amount of blood the body needs. However, HCM often goes undiagnosed because many people experience mild, if any, symptoms.

HCM is usually passed down through families. If a parent has HCM, each child has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the disease, causing genetic change. Since his sudden cardiac arrest, Maurice has been treated by Dr. Anjali Tiku Owens, Medical Director of the Penn Center for Inherited Cardiac Disease. His parents and siblings have all gone through testing at the center. None of them appear to have HCM. Nor do his grandparents, according to Maurice.

When he was diagnosed as a teenager, the news was a crushing blow to Maurice – it meant he could no longer play basketball. A few years later, though, a cardiologist told him he was fit to play again, and he began playing in recreational leagues.

During the roughly five years between that appointment and April 2012, Maurice admits he wasn’t as attentive to his heart as he should have been. The cost of the annual follow-ups with a cardiologist was a driving factor, as Maurice lacked health insurance.

He was also young and exercising nearly every day, so it was easy to relegate his disease to the back of his mind. Looking back, Maurice believes he ignored potential warning signs. For one, he says, he woke almost every morning for about a year before he collapsed with his left arm feeling like it was “dead.”

Life is Bigger Than a Diagnosis

Maurice Howerton and Son 2Five days after he nearly died, Maurice had a small battery-powered defibrillator implanted in his chest. It monitors his heart rhythm. If it detects an irregular heartbeat, it can deliver an electric shock through one of the wires connected to his heart.

Maurice says his defibrillator hasn’t administered a single shock over the last nine years.

He returned to his job as a transporter at HUP in early 2013. This spring, Maurice, now 32, was hired for a new position at the hospital, maintenance mechanic.

I think my life’s gotten a lot better since I’ve been under Dr. Owens’s care,” he says. “She’s encouraged me to keep exercising. And I’m trying to eat better.”

He may shoot jumpers if he’s feeling especially good, but Maurice says he no longer plays competitive basketball. The sprinting and constant contact are more than he feels comfortable with.

Dr. Owens describes his condition as “very stable,” adding that there’s no indication he’ll need further surgery in the near future, though she does caution that genetic heart conditions can progress unpredictably.

“Most importantly, he has the protection of his defibrillator in case he has another dangerous arrhythmia,” Dr. Owens says. “Another like the one he experienced in 2012 could be fatal otherwise.”

Maurice has become proactive about maintaining his heart health. And rather than seeing his HCM as a hinderance, he treats it as a reminder to stay present and persevere.

“I appreciate that life is bigger than this diagnosis. And the most important thing is that you just keep going. No matter what happens, just keep going,” he says. “As long as you’re on this earth, you have another chance.”

This significance took on a new dimension two years ago when Maurice became a dad, a moment that wasn’t anywhere on his radar on April 5, 2012. And now it’s completely redefined his life.

More Patient Stories

Share This Page: