Matt's Magic Moment

10:37 PM, Nov 23, 2010   |    comments
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What's the connection between a quiet home in Hampton, Georgia and one of the most raucous, rowdy college basketball arenas in America?

The answer: the beautiful story of a 19-year-old Duke basketball fanatic named Matt Mullis.

His room -- and to a certain degree, his life -- is filled with Duke basketball items, from his litany of T-shirts, jerseys and sweatshirts to his license plate and Facebook profile picture.

It's a passion and escape from the weight Matt's been carrying the last six years. He was diagnosed with liver disease at the age of 13; this past February, he was forced into Children's Hospital at Egleston for two months with liver failure.

"He was in such severe pain," recalls mother Susan Mullis. "The itching was uncontrollable, and you could look at him, and it was just horrible."

"It got so hot you couldn't control the itching," Matt remembers. "It's like having red bugs but on steroids times ten."

The pain was impossible to ignore ... until Matt happened upon the hospital's other Duke fanatic: Dr. Stuart Knechtle, who has his own Duke memorabilia -- he was a resident there.

Once Dr. Knechtle was introduced to Matt, he helped reintroduce Matt's favorite escape.

"I think SportsCenter was on," says Matt, "and he saw I had a Duke hat and a Duke shirt. We were close from there ever since."

Adds mother Susan, "Before they ever discussed his liver issue, it had to be a Duke discussion first."

When a new liver finally became available, and Dr. K was gonna do the transplant, Matt wrapped up a big surprise under his gown: the words "GO DUKE BLUE DEVILS" written on his belly.

"He's really got a lot of spirit to express himself that way," said Dr. Knechtle about the surprise, "and it endeared me more to him."

The transplant has been a tremendous success; Matt is feeling much better and has begun working out again.

But after that gift that touched the whole hospital, the hospital wanted to give a gift to Matt. So they contacted 11Alive; we got through to Duke; and Duke hooked up a V.I.P. trip to last Friday's game against Colgate. Matt, his family, and Dr. K were led on a behind-the-scenes tour of Cameron Indoor Stadium, the home of the Blue Devils; then they watched Duke destroy Colgate by 52 points.

Afterwards, they were taken back to a private room to meet the Duke players and Coach K.

At the end of the night, Matt Mullis was speechless. Said the teenager, "It's just a lifetime memory I will never forget."










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