In Business & Health, Justin Myatt is Full Speed Ahead
In Business & Health, Justin Myatt is Full Speed Ahead
Story by Walinda West | Photos by Todd Wood
Before he was five years old, Justin Myatt had endured more health procedures than many undergo in a lifetime. At the age of a year and a half, he had an unsuccessful surgery to correct a severe indentation in the wall of his chest. At three, he went through a procedure to remove and repair an abnormal growth of skin behind his eardrum that left him with partial hearing loss. Then, he had another surgery to remove his adenoids, which doctors thought would solve the problems with his ears; it didn’t work, either. And—as it turned out—that was the easy stuff.
Sitting in his paneled office in the garage that bears his name on Pine Meadow Drive in Pooler, 33-year-old Justin is surrounded by awards, trophies, tee shirts and other memorabilia proudly displayed like one would show off family pictures or other beloved treasures. He is in his element, but he’s the first to tell you it wasn’t easy.
“I always had a goal of having a child and being married by 35,” he said. “Realistically I know that I am lucky to be here and doing what I am doing.”
On this day, he periodically glances down at a notebook on his desk where he has jotted down the dates of his surgeries and other health-related matters.
“I can’t keep all this stuff together, so I have it here so I can look at it, but it still might not be right,” he said. “You can ask my mother. She knows all this stuff,” Justin joked.
He’s right. He can talk about all things car-related like LS engines, LT engines, forced induction, turbo build, cam shafts and cylinder heads, but surgery dates and all the procedures he has had to keep him alive are murky and best handled by his mother, Anna Myatt.
Anna, who had a stroke five years ago, apologized for her slurred speech, which is undetectable to people who don’t know her. One thing is clear: she does know every date, every doctor and every procedure her son has had.
“That boy has been through so much and he never complains,” said Anna as she recalled her son’s many hospital visits and stays. A twin, Justin was born three weeks early. Doctors determined during his mother’s second trimester that his twin had died, and she delivered both boys together.
“So many times, we thought we were going to lose him too, but he is here for a reason,” said Anna of her son’s resilience and strength. “We don’t give up.”
While Justin didn’t complain about any of his illnesses, the one thing the Rhode Island native did complain about was his stature. He was shorter than his peers.
“I prayed every night to be tall,” said Justin, who loved the game of basketball and envisioned playing the game in school and maybe one day professionally.
As time went on, Justin got his wish for growth as he began eclipsing his peers in height—making him a real catch for the basketball team. But those hoop dreams would be short lived when a routine physical revealed something concerning to his doctor: he had a life-altering aneurysm of the aorta that would make basketball or any other exertive sports too risky and a strain on his heart.
In 2003, doctors concluded that Justin’s heart condition was part of a new diagnosis: Marfan syndrome.
Marfan syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that affects the body’s connective tissues—the parts that hold the body together and provides support to many of its structures. As a result, many body systems are affected including the heart, blood vessels, bones, tendons, cartilage, eyes, nervous system, skin and lungs. One major complication of the condition is when the heart’s arteries enlarge to the point in which tears occur. That confirmed diagnosis is what sidelined Justin.
Marfan syndrome is caused by a defect in the gene called fibrillin-1 or FBN1 that encodes the structure of fibrillin and the elastic fibers, a major component of connective tissue. According to the Marfan Foundation, about 1 in 5,000 people have Marfan syndrome, including men and women of all races and ethnic groups. About 3 out of 4 people with Marfan syndrome inherit it. Many of Justin’s family members have the condition, which his mother said comes from her side of the family.
“My daughter has it and they have to keep an eye on her, my father had it and three cousins had it too,” said Anna, who also has an aneurysm and is being monitored by her doctors.
People with Marfan syndrome are characteristically very tall and lanky—Justin is 6'5". Their arms, legs, fingers and toes may seem too long or out of proportion with rest of their body. Their spine may be curved and their breastbone may either stick out or be indented.
Abraham Lincoln is among the most well-known Americans with Marfan syndrome, discovered in the late 1800s by French pediatrician Antoine-Bernard Marfan, who first described the skeletal abnormalities.
Move to Georgia
In 2005, the Myatt family moved from Rhode Island to Rincon for better job opportunities for the family patriarch, Ernest Myatt, when Justin was 17. In 2008, Justin’s condition declined and the following year, he underwent open heart surgery to repair the aneurysm that had been diagnosed back in Rhode Island. Doctors needed to replace a damaged aortic valve, which helps keep blood flowing in the correct direction through the heart, with a mechanical one. Justin quipped that the valve sounds like a ticking clock in his chest.
Lifesaving Heart Surgery Complications
“I had to have 52 units of blood, and I almost died three times. It was touch and go,” Justin said.
“And just as fast as they were putting blood in, it was coming out,” added his mother, Anna. “This was the worst time of our lives. We really thought we were going to lose him,” she recalled.
The loss of blood required a second surgery and another diagnosis. Doctors discovered a cyst the size of a dumbbell behind the sac of Justin’s heart. His sternum became infected. Doctors removed Justin’s sternum, recommending that he have a prosthetic device put in its place since his ribs are essentially floating in his body with no structural protection for his heart. He is still waiting to have that surgery.
Hoop Dreams Become Car Dreams
When Justin’s dream to become a basketball player faded, another dream emerged: cars. Anna said her son got the car bug from his older brother, who enjoyed tinkering with them. At 13, Justin said he bought his first car, a 1979 Mazda Rx-7. From then, his cars became more souped up and faster.
A Paycheck for the Work He Loved
Justin’s work on cars finally came with a paycheck when he went to work for Valvoline and Majestic Honda in Rhode Island—and later Grainger Honda locally—where he worked his way up to manager.
In 2013, he became a fleet mechanic at the Georgia Port, where he worked for eight years while working on cars during his free time. His ultimate goal, he said, was to open his own shop.
Reason to Live
These days, Justin said his focus is clear and he doesn’t take a day of life for granted. Myatt’s Garage has exceeded his expectations, he said. He started out serving customers in Effingham, Pooler, South Carolina and Savannah. But because the high-performance car industry is a small, close-knit community, he is now catering to customers in Atlanta and Florida. His goals, he said, are to race cars himself and to sponsor car shows and events at his garage in addition to working on cars.
In addition to Justin’s growing business, he said he finds great strength in his daughter, Karlie, whom he calls the love of his life. “She keeps me going.”
For now, he is taking one day at a time. “I am in old-man status,” he joked, referring to his early bedtime and healthy routine. “My goal is to be happy, healthy and to take care of my daughter. Most of all, I want to be here for her.”
Justin has advice to others who think the odds seem against them. “Continue to be positive, take it day by day and keep the vision of where you want to go,” he said. “No matter what comes about, with a goal in mind, you are always going to find a way to get there.”