Southwest Covenant senior Christian Brown might be one of nine red, white, and blue jerseys on the baseball field, but look beneath the uniform, at the protective chest plate he wears each game, and you’ll find a deeper story.
From birth, the odds were stacked against Brown.
Born with a closed pulmonary valve, he had three open-heart surgeries before his first birthday.
Shortly after his birth, a nurse noticed that Brown had an irregular heart beat; he was then flown by helicopter to a children’s hospital where an emergency surgery was performed.
Later, doctors attempted to open the valve with a stint but were unsuccessful. Another open-heart surgery was required to remove the stint.
The third surgery ensured that Brown could move on with his life.
Shortly thereafter he fell in love with baseball.
Brown can clearly recall the early years in which he discovered the sport. His dad, Kyle, an avid baseball fan, introduced Christian to the game.
“In the store, I would play pretend baseball,” Brown said. “I used to act things out. I would sit in my room and act like I hit the winning run in, like I hit a walk-off home run.”
By four years old, Brown began his baseball career and didn’t looked back.
The missing pulmonary valve didn’t hinder Brown’s ability to live life as a child. Along the way, he picked up basketball as another sport of choice.
Brown became invested in basketball by the time he entered middle school. He came off the bench for Southwest Covenant his sixth-and-seventh grade years but his ultimate goal of starting didn’t come.
The summer before eighth-grade, Brown was determined to be a starter. He worked tirelessly in the gym to improve his skills.
The hard work paid off one November day before the start of the season, when he found out he would be starting for the Patriots.
The excitement wouldn’t last when Brown got news that would end his basketball career.
On the same day he found out he was starting, Brown’s team of doctors decided he would need to undergo another surgery to fix the blood flow.
“The problem was that blood was going out (of the heart) through the rest of my body and then coming back in,” Brown said. “It was causing a stretching in my right ventricle.”
His heart surgery was in December in Memphis at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, where he was able to be operated on by the same doctor that worked on him as an infant. He was back on the field by opening day in March.
“I was scared right before (the surgery) but up to that point I just didn’t really think about it,” Brown said. “I just knew God was going to guide me through it and that there’s no reason to worry.”
The surgery was a success, leaving him in great shape, he said.
By the next season he was gearing up for high school play. His first season on the varsity roster was cut short by a broken thumb. He missed the rest of the season.
Disaster struck again his sophomore year after he was involved in a car accident. Brown said he was waiting at a stop light in 2016 when a car rear-ended his vehicle. No major injuries were caused by the wreck, yet he had back issues.
His parents took him to a chiropractor who revealed his back pain went deeper than the car accident.
He was diagnosed with scoliosis as his back took form of an S shape at 50-and-30 degree angles.
This time, surgery was more tricky.
Brown was flown to New Jersey where he underwent an experimental surgery. Seventeen titanium screws were drilled in his spine, with a tether running through it. His lungs were deflated to perform the surgery.
“Back surgery was definitely the harder recovery of the two,” Brown said. “The heart was just one incision down the middle (of my chest) and I already had three others in the same place so it felt like it healed faster.”
The back surgery would be his last to date, however, that didn’t make the transition back to baseball any easier.
“When he’d play, you’d look over between innings and his dad was stretching him,” coach Jeff Deckard said. “He was hurting, you could tell. But he battled through”
The recovery lingered well through his junior season.
“Last year he wasn’t feeling 100% so I had to go with someone else and he handled that like a champ,” Deckard said. “Great attitude. I’m so pleased he’s able to play at 100%.”
Today, Brown wears a chest plate to protect his heart from being hit, a small reminder of all he’s been through. He could have easily given up after the first, second, third, fourth, or fifth surgeries but he didn’t.
“With baseball, I had been playing all my life and I didn’t see a point in letting my medical condition stop that,” Brown said. “I just decided I would do whatever it took to be able to still play.