- Associated Press - Monday, July 4, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Standing outside the Indigo Park Apartments one hot June afternoon, Morgan Wells wore an LSU track T-shirt, a reminder of his days as a walk-on hurdler for one of the best track programs in the country.

He placed a black scarf over his head. It covers sutures that will be removed in the next couple of weeks.

The Shreveport native had turned away from his full scholarship at McNeese State after two seasons, transferring to LSU and attempting to earn a roster spot at the state’s flagship school.

After sitting out a year, Wells earned a small role on the LSU team in 2015. His dreams were coming true.

A year later, just after his senior season concluded, everything changed.

On June 10, Wells visited Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, suffering from migraines and vomiting. Shortly thereafter, he was in a room, crying, scared by a life-threatening diagnosis. He had a brain tumor called meningioma in his left lobe.

During a week of treatment, he had two procedures. The first was embolization, in which doctors cut off all the nerves, arteries and blood supply to the tumor to stop the bleeding during the second operation.

The second was the remover. He was supposed to be sedated for both procedures, but the air conditioning went out in the operating room, causing Wells to be awake during the embolization.

“It was some close calls the next day,” he said. “I almost had a stroke where they could’ve lost me a couple times. But I had some of the best surgeons in Louisiana, so they worked it all out, thankfully.”

It wasn’t an easy route for Wells to earn a roster spot at LSU. He had to get his release from McNeese, and he also needed to drop his race time significantly to earn any chance to run hurdles. He picked LSU because of the school’s reputation as a track powerhouse.

“People respect LSU like a religion,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of that.”

Wells said he faced a lot of questions from those who doubted his ability to compete at LSU. It never got the best of him.

Wells comes from a single-parent home, and often found himself surrounded by troubled times in Shreveport. He said he lost a lot of family members and friends to death or jail time. It only motivated him to be better. He kept coming back to a saying he likes to live by: Faith and worry can’t coexist.

“If you are going to worry about something, then you do not trust your faith,” Wells said.

Throughout his life, Wells had bad migraines, sinus pressure and vomiting spells. He thought they some sort of on-and-off-again sickness.

On Feb. 5, hours before the New Mexico Collegiate Classic in Albuquerque, he threw up. The migraines didn’t stop.

At long last, he realized his condition was serious.

His doctor, Luke Corsten, laid out the hard news: He didn’t have a stomach virus. It was a brain tumor the size of a tennis ball.

Wells cried. Still, he tried to stay calm. Corsten’s confidence, Wells said, settled his nerves.

According to the American Brain Tumor Association, meningioma is a tumor, often benign, arising from the coverings of the brain and spinal cord. Headaches and weakness in an arm or leg are the most common symptoms. They represent about one-third of all primary brain tumors.

Wells’ mother, Randi, remembers hearing the news and feeling it rip through her heart.

“I knew I had to maintain my composure,” she said. “But this was my baby at that moment.”

Wells’ best friend, Tevon Remo, felt like he had been hit by a train.

“My grandfather died from a brain tumor in the exact same place as his,” Remo said. “So I was afraid of losing my best friend.”

Wells’ brother, Brandon Wilson, immediately thought of the worst-case scenarios. He tried to lean on his brother’s traits of perseverance and toughness.

Before Wells’ second surgery, Wilson saw five or six staff members who would be working on Morgan. They all introduced themselves to the family and friends. Wilson knew Wells was in good hands with the surgery team and with God.

Throughout Wells’ hospital stay, he remained positive. When he saw his mother and grandmother worrying, he tried to lighten the mood with humor. He said he wasn’t worried; he just wanted to sleep.

“If anyone knows Morgan, you know he doesn’t let anything get him down,” Wilson said. “But I could also see he was afraid.”

The day after surgery, Wilson received a video of Wells sitting up, talking, eating and holding conversations.

Doctors told Wilson that the location of his brother’s tumor could affect his motor skills, speech and vision. They said he could be unconscious for days. Instead, he was fine.

Wilson couldn’t wait to see it. That day, he had a job interview in Dallas, but that didn’t keep him from getting to his brother. He flew from Monroe to Dallas for the interview. Then he flew from Dallas to Baton Rouge, via Atlanta.

“If the tables were turned, I knew that he would have done all the same things, if not more,” he said.

Wells was released from the hospital June 19. He had his own place and an internship, and he wanted to get back to all of it.

During rehab, Wells had to regain his depth perception and proprioception - his body’s and brain’s sense of itself, its ability to understand how to move.

Wells graduated from LSU this spring and has just started his postgraduate journey, interning with the LSU strength and conditioning program, teaching speed concepts.

A normal day now consists of working with athletes, maintaining the facility, staying upbeat and learning from others.

He once worked so hard to become an LSU athlete. Now he has that experience, and it helps him connect to the special sense of pride the other athletes have.

“I can connect with a lot of people at my internship that are overcoming battles of their own,” Wells said. “I want to teach and be an inspiration at the same time.”

Wells even embraces a connection with Mike VI, the school’s tiger mascot who was diagnosed with a rare, terminal form of cancer. He and Mike were at the same hospital.

“I see him all the time on campus because I walk by there every day,” Wells said. “I might have to have a heart-to-heart with Mike to see if he responds. We are some survivors out here.”

Wells wants to give motivational speeches about overcoming adversity. He reminds himself of his favorite Bible verse, Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you.”

After all, faith and worry can’t coexist.

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