Sept. 24, 2009

By Amy Farnum

Augsburg College men’s soccer player Matt Bowman is extremely thankful for his second chance in life and on the soccer field after a brush with death just a little more than a year ago.

The team was having its first preseason scrimmage last fall, when Bowman suddenly got dizzy and collapsed on the field.  The trainer rushed to Bowman and could not find a pulse.  Head coach Greg Holker remembers Bowman’s lips and ears turning blue.  He was barely hanging on to life, but miraculously, Bowman woke up as his parents and teammates looked on.

“I remember waking up to people yelling my name,” said Bowman.  “I was wheezing and trying to catch my breath.”

“I was holding on to Matt’s legs and it was really weird to have a kid come alive after basically being dead and start to kick and scream,” said Holker.  “It was the scariest moment I’ve ever experienced.”
Amazingly, Bowman was able to walk off the field on his own, and went with his parents to the hospital rather than taking an ambulance.  

“Matt was up and mobile in 20 minutes and that was really comforting to everybody,” said Holker.   “We knew he was okay, now what we just had to figure out what was wrong.”

Bowman spent the night in the hospital with doctors running various tests, and finally finding a heart defect that he had since birth.  He was diagnosed with a form of anomalous coronary artery heart defect, a very rare condition that usually kills 80 percent of its victims before it is found. Basically, one of Bowman’s main coronary arteries was in the wrong place, causing the heart to malfunction.  

“The scary thing was that it could have happened at any time,” said Bowman.  “It was so serious of a defect in the placement that it could have happened in my sleep.  You hear about these deaths sometimes of athletes in really good condition dying suddenly, so I was really lucky they found it.”

The native of Maple Grove, Minn., underwent open-heart surgery at the Minneapolis Heart Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital on Sept. 12, 2008, to correct the defect, and was forced to miss the entire season.

The surgery went well, and Bowman only missed the first week of classes, and started his rehabilitation soon after.  He was out about eight weeks before being cleared to play again in November.

The Auggies rallied around Bowman, wearing “MB10” on their uniform sleeves, and cheering “1-2-3 Bowman” before running out to the field before a game.  

“It was inherently motivating for them to perform well, knowing that they are lucky, they are fortunate to have what they have,” said Holker.  “I think Matt’s circumstances did bring the group closer together and even more determined to accomplish some things they maybe didn’t think were possible initially.”

The team ended up making the NCAA Division III Tournament for the first time in school history, winning two games before falling in the third round to Loras in double overtime.

Bowman went through the spring season with the team, although the journey back to pre-surgery shape was difficult.

“I was still out of shape, and that was frustrating for me,” said Bowman.  “I’m used to being at a pretty good fitness level and after having heart surgery and your lungs collapse, it takes a while to get that back.  To be honest, I’m still trying to reach that fitness level that I was at a year ago, especially with sprinting, but it’s a lot better.  I have no pain in my chest, even when I chest-trap the ball.”

“He’s a different player than he was, and it’s something that we’re working on and will be continued aerobic capacity testing with him,” said Holker. “There has been a change in his ability to move and run and do things.  He’s certainly a lot closer today than he was four weeks ago.  It’s been promising seeing the development.”

Bowman has started in all eight of the No. 15 Auggies contests this season, contributing three assists on the year and his first collegiate goal against Saint John’s on Sept. 16.

“I didn’t have any goals my freshman year, I just had some assists, so it was kind of cool,” said Bowman.  “It’s fun to be back to normal and playing and not on the sideline.”

After going through this experience, Holker says it’s very rewarding to watch Bowman get a second chance at life and on the soccer field.  

“Now, it’s almost like nothing happened,” said Bowman.  “I almost need to be reminded of it.  It’s a weird feeling sometimes.  When I’m on the field, I think I appreciate it more, and appreciate the team and Augsburg a lot more.”

Augsburg hosts UW-Oshkosh in a non-conference match on Sept. 25.  The Auggies will be looking to snap a two-game scoreless and losing streak against the Titans.