JACKSON, Tenn. – Oct. 25, 2012 – Nearly a year ago, Stephen Hauss was an athletic Union University student who was president of the sophomore class, was teaching a small group of 9th grade high school boys at Englewood Baptist Church and had just been elected as Alpha Tau Omega fraternity president.
His love of sports had carried over from high school. He rarely missed an opportunity to play in a varsity intramural sporting event at Union. Little did he know he may have been one game away from sudden death.
A trip to the hospital on a hunch that he had mononucleosis led to a discovery that Hauss had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a rare genetic heart condition with symptoms that are hard to detect and can cause a person's heart to stop, causing death — especially likely during contact sports or taxing workouts.
What began as a shock turned into a rallying point for his fraternity brothers, Hauss said. Because of his condition, Union's ATO chapter has created a week-long set of events in October to raise money and awareness for the American Heart Association and heart disease research.
The week will culminate with a pancake breakfast, open to the public, in the Bowld Commons on Union University's campus Oct. 27 from 8-10 a.m. Admission is $5 per person; tickets may be purchased at the door.
Hauss and his ATO brothers will present the funds they raise to AHA representatives at the AHA West Tennessee Heart Walk at Pringles Park Nov. 3.
Hauss said for the past year he has seen many of his friends and others in the Union community develop an interest in heart health because of his story. Twenty-two organizations and individuals connected to Union contributed at least $25 to the ATO chapter's AHA fund to have their names placed on the back of a T-shirt that will be sold to Union students. They have raised more than $1,100 so far.
"Heart health is something that typically college students aren't really aware of — but my (ATO) brothers have seen it affect my life," Hauss said. "I can tell you that each one of them is excited about raising money because it will help someone someday — it might even be me."
There is currently no known cure for Hauss's heart condition, which he describes as his heart being “too thick.” He takes medicine to slow down his heart rate and has a defibrillator under the skin on his chest. If the bottom of his heart were to pump too hard, the defibrillator would protect against his heart stopping.
At his six-month appointment, he received the encouraging news that his heart is no longer growing larger.
The hardest part of his experience, he said, has been giving up contact sports. He still manages, though, to participate in some games, as long as he stands to the side on the basketball court and only shoots or just hits the baseball lightly and walks to first base.
"The guys were there for me the whole time that I was learning to adjust," Hauss said. "They made it a point to come to my (basketball) games. They would all yell, 'Pass to Stephen,' then they would go crazy when I scored.”
By Samantha Adams (’13)