For most high school basketball players, winter break means looking forward to family time, Christmas celebrations, and maybe a holiday hoops tournament.
For Sean Morrison, it means having an eight-hour brain surgery that could save his life.
After ending his high school playing career on Tuesday night in an emotional game at Lynden Christian, the Ferndale senior will focus on having a craniotomy on Tuesday, Dec. 28.
“It’ll be difficult, but I know I can make it through,” said the 17-year-old. “I know I’m going through it (the surgery) alone, but I’ve got a lot of support.”
That support starts with his father and mother — Orion and Maleka Morrison — who have lived every parent’s nightmare since the night last September when their once-healthy son had two grand mal seizures.
“It was extremely scary,” said Orion. “They did an MRI at the hospital and told us right away what it was.”
The medical term is arteriovenous malformations (AVM), which refers to a tangle of extra blood vessels in Sean’s brain that can lead to a number of problems, including strokes, brain hemorrhaging, and even death. The simplest solution is to open his skull and cut out the extra blood vessels.
Simple to say, yet extremely delicate and difficult to do. The Morrisons were fortunate there was one surgeon in the Pacific Northwest who specializes in this surgery. That’s who will be doing it.
“It’s very dangerous because it’s brain surgery,” said Maleka. “There’s all the awful things that you don’t want to think about.”
Ferndale coach Jason Owens marveled at the strength of Sean’s parents, pointing out that Maleka called everyone she could to finally get insurance to offer emergency coverage.
“They are great parents,” said Owens, who also coached Sean’s older brother Brady three years ago. “They’ve had some tough decisions.”
Sean also has gotten support from his teammates and coaches, all of whom hugged Sean after Tuesday’s game.
“They’ve been amazing,” said Sean. “I can’t imagine a better team. Their love and support haven’t wavered. I’ve had moments when I’ve been tired at practice, and they’ll pick me up. They have my back.”
Sean’s father said the support extended throughout the school.
“His teachers, coaches, and friends have been amazing,” said Orion. “That’s been a blessing through all this.”
Despite his condition and the anti-seizure medications that leave him fatigued, Morrison has continued to start for the Golden Eagles. A 6-foot-1 forward who isn’t afraid to battle inside, he had 9 points Tuesday in the near-upset of undefeated Lynden Christian.
“He’s been playing amazing ball,” said Owens. “He brings energy to the gym. He’s a fun kid to talk to with a great sense of humor. I’ve really enjoyed having him around. At the Lakewood game (Sean’s last home game on Dec. 16) … I don’t get too emotional, but I cried.”
The good news is that with successful surgery there are only minor side effects such as the loss of some peripheral vision. Unfortunately, even with successful surgery, the three-sport athlete’s high school playing career is over.
Recovery from the surgery will be at least two nights in the hospital. Recovery at home will mean nothing strenuous — only walking — for two weeks. It could be three months before he is back to “normal,” and six months before he can play tennis, baseball or basketball again.
Which is part of the reason the family didn’t have the surgery immediately. Doctors assured him playing wouldn’t endanger his health, but the family understood it was “the sooner the better” for surgery.
So they compromised and waited until Sean could play eight games with his teammates, some of whom he’s been playing with since third grade.
“I’ve grown up with him,” said fellow senior Mark Schlichting. “He’s got that energy that helps a team play together. I know he’ll be back (cheering) on our bench.”
“He’s been amazing,” Maleka said of her son. “He has a lot on his mind. He’s extra tired. Yet he’s been adaptable and accepting. That’s just who he is.
“He understands (the surgery) is something we have to go through for him to be able to experience so many more things in life. We want him to live his dreams. He wants to help people and motivate people.”
Which, incredibly, is what Sean is doing even as he faces the biggest challenge of his life.
Speaking for Whatcom Hoops and all of the Whatcom County basketball community, we want Sean and his family to know our thoughts and prayers are with them as we look forward to a successful surgery and an opportunity for Sean to live his dreams.
Jim Carberry is a former Bellingham Herald sports editor and author of several books on Whatcom County prep basketball. Follow him on Twitter @whatcomhoops and visit the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.