Athlete trades gridiron for tire iron, raises awareness about rare heart defect

Back in 2020 when Journey Brown was a student-athlete at Penn State University, EKG testing saved his life. He contracted the coronavirus, and during testing, found out he had a genetic non-COVID-related heart condition.

"If they wouldn’t have found that, especially how drastic mine was, it probably would’ve been crucial," Brown told FOX 35.

Brown was forced to hang up the cleats early. He’s now shifted gears to NASCAR, where he’s a front tire changer with Trackhouse Racing. On Thursday, he got to share his story in front of football fans before the Seabreeze High School junior varsity game.

"I’m very happy that I’m here to this day," Brown said.

Brown’s story hit home for Seabreeze junior linebacker, Brogan Kelly. Kelly is sidelined this year, after undergoing open-heart surgery in June. He had an anomalous right coronary artery or ARCA. Which is a rare heart defect. Doctors with Advent Health caught it after Kelly went through routine screenings. 

"I was real disappointed. Not really for myself. But because I’m letting my guys down. There’s guys out there I’ve played with since I was ‘this’ big." Kelly said.

AdventHealth donated two new AEG machines to Seabreeze’s training staff and hopes they will come in handy should the unthinkable happen. Thursday served as a great learning moment, and time of reflection for Kelly and Brown, who are both happy to be alive.

"You can have a lifestyle even if you don’t play sports. You can find other paths and goals even if you don’t reach your dreams that you initially had, you can always make new dreams," Brown said.

"I’m glad they caught it. But also not glad I don’t get to play football," Kelly said.