Morgan Long - Always Get A Second Opinion
"He was trying to cut me open for another surgery that I didn’t even need"
Words and photos by Devin Feil
Injuries are a given in BMX. As a rider you don't expect sympathy for your pain, because at the end of the day you made the choice to put yourself at risk. When you do get hurt however, you hope that you can rely on the doctors you see for care. Morgan Long suffered what can be a career ender in many sports when he tore his ACL in a severe knee injury, but that was just the beginning of his problems. Post surgery you don't ever want to discover the words "malpractice" or "federal investigation" connected with the surgeon who performed your operation, but that's just the position Morgan found himself in. Here we have a cautionary tale of a near nightmare situation and Morgan's long road back to the top of his game...
We'll start with the basics. Name age, and where do you call home currently?
Morgan Long, 26, Long Beach, California
When we first met you were working on last minute clips for Dan's Comp's 'Roll Call' DVD (watch below in related content) and just started riding without your knee brace. What was it like diving into a major project fresh off injury?
It was a mind fuck for sure. For years I'd looked forward to being able to work on a longterm video project and those were not the circumstances I thought I would be under. It took me a really long time to rehab my knee all the way to get back on my bike, and then once I did it took longer than I expected to be able to ride as hard as I wanted to. They had been filming for the DVD for a few months by the time I started being able to ride again. The first trip I went on for that was pretty last minute because some people bailed. Scott Towne (Dan's Comp TM) hit me up and asked me if I wanted to try to make it on a trip to Chicago, but I wasn’t really ready. We talked about it and he told me if I wanted to go along and just chill and get B-roll clips he would still get me a ticket. I thought that if I chilled and was selective that I could probably get a few clips, and get to hangout with some of the team, so I decided to go.
I think I got one clip before I ended up tweaking my knee jumping off while rolling fakie at the end of a line. That set me back about two more months and stressed me out to the max. I thought I might have fucked it up again and I had to go see my surgeon to get a MRI and see how it was looking. The doctor came back to me with super sketchy "diagnostics" so I had to go see another doctor who ended up telling me everything was fine. After that I had to chill for a while and then I was pretty much good to go. I was stoked on the clips I did get once I was able to film for the DVD; I just made it a lot more stressful on myself than it needed to be. Looking back it was a learning experience and of course I wish I could have filmed more, but that was just the way it worked out.
When was it that you initially injured your knee? What was the extent of the damage?
November of 2011. I don’t know all of the correct medical terms for everything, but I basically dislocated my knee, tore my ACL, and tore both sides of my meniscus. What made it really bad was the way I did it. I blew it out by taking a blow to the knee, when usually people tear the ACL it is from twisting or stomping the leg. I went OTB straight to my knee and it pretty much just exploded my ACL and the way the meniscus tore was called a "bucket handle tear" which means that it was torn in the middle and the part that was torn was flipped inside out and pinching itself so my leg was stuck in one position till I got surgery.
What were you trying at the time? Did you know right away something was not all right?
I was finishing up a Dan's Comp web video and wanted a few last clips around Long Beach. I had this one spot in mind that I had found that was pretty close to my house at a hospital. The spot is literally twenty feet from a security booth, so there is a very small chance that the spot is ride able. For whatever reason I was feeling really good around that time, and really comfortable on my bike, and decided to go by the spot to see if by chance the spot was ride able. We pedaled over to the spot, as we roll up the security guard was leaving his booth so I was just like “Let’s do this.”
The setup is a stairway that goes down a few steps and then turns 90 degrees to the last eight stairs. There is a thin wall where the stairs turn, and I was trying to gap out to nose bonk this thin wall. Since the security booth is close to the spot I’d never fully had a look at the spot before and the run up ended up being really sketchy. I did one or two run ups and was just like "ok I have to send this" because this security guard is going to be back in no time. The first go I bonked the wall and got a little back wheel heavy and blew off the back of my bike. I jumped up and was too confident that I had it and just went for it again. Second go I just barely missed my front wheel on the nose bonk and went OTB straight to my knee. I started yelling really loud because I knew something was really wrong.
I tried to stand up and I couldn’t, I felt that everything was not aligned with my leg and I collapsed. I looked over and saw the security guard coming towards me and I stood up again while grabbing my knee and I felt everything pop back in. Then I could somewhat stand up and I just rolled away while yelling. I thought for a few days that I had just dislocated my knee from hitting it so hard and was in denial that anything was torn. After three days it wasn’t getting any better at all so I went to the doctor and they told me I needed a MRI. The next day I flew home for Thanksgiving and ended up getting a MRI while I was home, like a week later I found out what all was wrong with it.
When you got it checked out, how'd you pick a doctor?
At the time Ashley Charles was living in Long Beach and had just had ACL surgery. He was getting help from the AFR (Athlete Recovery Fund) and they had set him up with the "X Games Orthopedic," Dr. Chao in San Diego. Supposedly Dr. Chao was this highly recommended surgeon who had worked on everyone from Dave Mirra to Tony Hawk to Michael Jordan. As it turns out, this doctor ended up being really shady by the end of my experience.
And you were confident in his diagnosis and went ahead with surgery?
Well, originally I had got the MRI at home and knew that my knee was for sure messed up at this point and I was just trying to get into surgery as quickly as possible. I went in to see Dr. Chao and he looked at my MRI and immediately scheduled the surgery. I went in really confident because he was such a highly recommended doctor. It wasn’t until 7 months after the surgery that I tweaked my knee on the Dans trip that I went on. I then went back to see Dr. Chao. After I tweaked my knee, it was swollen and he wanted to do another MRI to make sure nothing tore. Usually when you get a MRI your whole body goes inside of the huge MRI machine, but this time he used a little portable looking MRI machine, although I didn’t really think much of it.
When he got the results about a week later he tells me that it looked like they needed to do another surgery, and at the minimum go in and clean up some more of my meniscus and some of the scar tissue. He said it looked like my original surgery didn’t work at all and that my ACL "might be disconnected”. I asked him what do you mean my ACL “might” be disconnected, and he said he couldn’t tell for sure from the MRI and that when he went in to "clean up" the other stuff that if it was messed up he would just replace it. I was really confused because the whole time while rehabbing my knee everything seemed to be going well, and I had got the ok to ride about six weeks before this. I became more sketched out because this same doctor pulled the same kind of thing with Ashley Charles in the past and had him go through a second surgery. Dr. Chao was trying to get me to book a date for another surgery right there and I just looked at him in shock. I told him that I was going to another doctor for a second opinion and got up and walked out.
So what'd you do next? Who did you seek out for a second opinion?
I was seeing Dr. G in Costa Mesa while I was rehabbing my knee. He is PT that works with a bunch of the Red Bull athletes and motocross guys and when things got sketchy with Dr. Chao I went back to Dr. G and he told me his own opinion on Chao and recommended me to go see a doctor named Warren Krammer out of Newport Beach for a second opinion. In my one first appointment with Dr. Krammer I spent more time talking to him than I had with Chao in 8 months
And then when you followed up what did the doctor have to say?
I brought Dr. Krammer my MRI from Chao and he looked at them and was blown away. He said it was one of the worst quality images of a MRI that he had ever seen and he couldn’t believe that Dr. Chao was going to make a medical decision that I needed another surgery based off this shitty quality MRI. He told him about the kind of machine he used for this MRI and again he was blown away. He informed me that when you are getting a MRI after a surgery, a special dye needs to be injected into the area to help tell the difference between old damage and any new damage, which obviously Chao did not do with me. After looking over my medical records from Dr. Chao, Dr. Krammer discovered Chao had performed a totally different ACL surgery than we had discussed; using my patella rather than my hamstring like we agreed upon. After getting a new MRI with Dr. Krammer he said my ACL was completely fine and there was no reason for another surgery. I did have a little Baker's cyst that had developed behind my knee from all of the swelling, so he drained it and gave me a cortisone shot and I was good to go after a few weeks of rest.
So did anything further happen with Chao? I know you mentioned they hounded you for bills...
Fast forward a few months and I’m good to go riding and I start getting bills in from my second MRI with Dr. Chao and I’m pissed. My insurance wasn’t going to cover my second MRI, and there was no way I was paying for it out of my pocket after finding out how bad the MRI was, and that he was trying to cut me open for another surgery that I didn’t even need. I wrote them a letter and mailed it priority mail so they had to sign for it (that way it was documented that they received my letter) I stated all the facts about my experience with Dr. Chao and said that I wasn’t paying them any more money besides what my insurance had paid them, and threatened to get a lawyer if I needed to. A few more months went by and I didn’t hear anything then I randomly got a letter from them saying that if I didn’t pay them, that they would be sending me to a collections agency. I got on the phone and talked to someone that was the head of billing at Chao’s office and I told her my situation. They had my letter on file and I told them that until I could talk to her boss about my letter that I wasn’t paying them anything. The lady made some notes on my account to where I wouldn’t be sent to collections until I was contacted by someone within the office via phone and I haven’t heard anything since then or got any more bills.
"There was no way I was paying for it out of my pocket after finding out that he was trying to cut me open for another surgery that I didn’t even need."
- Morgan Long
Do you have any lingering mistrust in doctors now?
Honestly, somewhat yes. After Chao tried to tell me I needed a second surgery and I found out I didn’t, I simply googled "doctor malpractice" and clicked on a few articles. The third article I clicked on just so happened to be a whole article about Dr. Chao, and how he had a bunch of lawsuits against him for malpractice, and how he was also under federal investigation for illegally giving NFL players a bunch of pain pills. After I read that article I started freaking out. I looked up Dr. Chao’s name and ended up finding tons of articles about lawsuits being filed against him, and how he had also been arrested several times for DUI over the last few years.
What would you say to someone else who finds they are questioning a doctor's opinion?
Always ask lots of questions when dealing with any doctor and do your own research on the doctor. Learn as much as you can about your injury, so you can have a good understanding on what is going on and so you can ask the right questions throughout the process.
I remember you telling me that initially you wanted to avoid a brace for fear of becoming dependent on it. What was it that changed your mind?
I was just set on not wearing the brace from the beginning. I knew it would really suck to wear and I didn’t want to come dependent on it. I figured that I would rather spend some extra time rehabbing it and just not ride till I was good enough to ride without a brace, even if that meant being off my bike a little longer. Obviously I wanted to be off my bike the shortest time possible, but I was trying to make sure I was really doing everything I could do to rehab it so it was good and strong. I was just at seven months in when I went on that Dans trip when I tweaked it; it really scared me. I couldn't imagine going through the whole situation again after that scare, so I just forced myself to wear it. It was the worst wearing the brace, but at that point I had to do what I had to just to be on my bike.
Did that tweak to it on the Dan's trip mess with your head?
I wont lie it did. Two major injuries in a row were already fucking with my head. Then I finally just had to try to focus all my energy on getting better and not dwelling on the fact that I got hurt twice in one year. I really put in a lot of work to rehab it and was trying not to rush into getting back on my bike, and then when I tweaked it just the thought of starting over the whole process from scratch was the most depressing thing ever.
So during this time you were logging footage for both 'Roll Call' and 'Holy Fit'. Did it bother you not be able to give it your all?
Well, while I was hurt with my knee I was in the middle of the rehabbing process and I ended up starting to get hooked up with some flow from FIT for my frame, bars, and forks. I was new to FIT and I was just on the flow team, so by the time I was able to start riding again I had to focus on trying to play catch up on filming for the Dans Comp DVD, and I also wanted to work a web video. I knew that the DVD wouldn’t be out and available for awhile, and that I wasn’t able to put out any web video content, so I started working on a web joint with John Hicks at the same time I was filming for 'Roll Call.' I decided I would do the web edit with John for TCU, that way we could throw all of my sponsors’ logos on the video, and show all of them a little love with my first web video after being hurt. I was good and healthy for a while and I slowly started doing a little more stuff with FIT, but they were so far into filming for Holy FIT I didn’t get to make it on any filming trips for the DVD. I ended up just filming a few clips with Stew when he came threw LA to meet up with some other FIT dudes towards the end of filming for the DVD, and the rest of the clips I had Miles Rogish and John Hicks film for me around Long Beach and LA.
When was it that you finally breathed a sigh of relief and knew you were back to old form?
That’s a hard one. The whole time I was wearing my brace while filming for Roll Call I knew I was good to go, I felt good and like I was capable to ride on a level that I wanted to and I didn’t really have to hold back while riding, but if I rode too hard for a long day or had a lot of bails in short period of time my knee would swell up and I would have to take it easy for a few days. I rode with the brace for a year before finally weaning myself off it, once I was out of the brace I felt back to normal. Even though I could ride on the same level with the brace it just didn’t feel like normal having to strap this big uncomfortable thing onto my leg.
Once you'd wrapped up filming for those DVD's you knocked out a Dan's edit around Long Beach in what three days or something crazy?
Yeah after the filming some stuff around home for the FIT video I wanted to start working on a web piece for Dans Comp for that year. Around that time Doeby Huynh hit me up to see if I would be interested in filming a Dans Comp video and I said sure. I had never filmed with Doeby before, but I had met him and he seemed cool and his video work that I saw looked good so we made a plan for him to come to LB and to stay with me for three days. We came out with a really productive three days. I had three other clips that I had filmed earlier that month with Zach Krejmas while I was out with him and a few other LB locals one day. Zach hooked me up with the three clips and I put them in with all the Doeby clips, so I guess I filmed for that video for four days.
Didn't some people remark that they hadn't seen any footage of you in a while?
Yeah kind of. It was a little weird to me because when the video came out everyone seemed to be stoked on it, but when all the websites posted it up the description of the video made it sound like I was just finally getting back to 100 percent from my knee. At this point I had been feeling great for a while. I know I didn’t have as much internet content as I normally would have, since I was saving footage for the DVD once I was healthy, but I did have the TCU video, a Cherry Park Edit, along with a bunch of random clips in mix edits. I had been feeling 100 percent for awhile, and I was stoked on all the clips I had filmed before that video came out, but I guess it took that edit for people to really notice that I was back at it and I wasn’t letting some knee injury slow me down at all.
That closed out last year and in 2015 you got the bump up to Fit pro along with signature frame, bars, and a complete for 2016. How good must that have felt?
The best feeling ever!!!! It was everything I had been working for. I’ve always dreamed of riding for FIT and to get put on the pro team with such a respected company with a legendary team meant the world to me. It made it feel like more of an accomplishment after dealing with the back-to-back injuries and being off my bike for a while. As soon as Moeller told me they were putting me on Pro for the new year he told me they wanted to give me a signature frame, and that they were down for any signature parts that I might have ideas for which was just extra icing on the cake.
What's the significance of the name "Hoodbird"?
I spent weeks trying to think of a good name for the frame. I was doing lots of looking on the internet trying different things to get inspiration from for a name. My dad has always had an old 1979 Trans AM that has been this iconic thing within our family. I started looking up some history on the Trans Am and that when I learned that the Phoenix decal on the Trans Am was originally referred to as the "hoodbird" and that name just sounded perfect to me. It was something different for sure, it’s easy to say and easy to remember, and it gave me something to play off of with the graphics. Plus it has a lot of meaning to me being associated with my dad’s car so I rolled with it.
Was the choice to go American made yours?
When Moeller first mentioned the frame he suggested to do it American made, but was open to my opinion. Having the option to do it as an American made frame seemed like a no brainer to me. That’s not a option that most have, so I wanted to take advantage of having the in house machine shop at FIT and all the high quality parts that they are known for putting out.
How excited were you to see a Trans Am when we were out filming? Did that feel like a good sign for the day?
Haha man I was stoked. It was already a really good day so far and then we just randomly came across that car in the parking lot and it was just too perfect, I knew we had to get some kind of B-roll clip by it.
When you visit home I am always seeing a ton of Instagram posts out riding. You have fun revisiting the old spots?
It’s the best! Nothing beats coming home and riding a bunch of old spots that I grew up riding with all my hometown homies. Honestly just cruising across Quincy and hitting a spot or two solo as I’m crossing town gives me a special feeling. It’s the only place I lived before moving to California, so it is the only place that I feel this connected with the city as far as just riding around town. I actually got to film a handful of clips from Quincy in my Hoodbird promo so that is a good feeling to have some hometown clips in my first signature frame promo video. It felt like the video wouldn’t have been complete without some hometown clips.
A couple of the guys from your area are out here with you right?
Yeah my whole apartment is filled with my some of my closest friends from Quincy who all ride. It is sick! I originally moved to California with Eben Fischer and he of course did all my graphics on my frame. I grew up riding with Eben and he took me under his wing and let me start tagging along with him when I was like 15/16 and he was 20/21 working on his "Sturdy Wrist" interview with DIG ten years ago. I graduated high school half a year early and Eben and I packed up and moved out west. Over the years we have slowly recruited three other friends Cody Campbell, Josh Delcour, and Forrest Hawk to all make the move to LB and we all love it out here.
"I worked on this way longer than anything I’ve done in the past and of course having it be a video to promote my first signature frame makes it more special for me."
- Morgan Long
Speaking of Long Beach sessions Van Homan was in town with Stew Johnson prior to DIG’s Pools Gold trip and hopped in the Fit van with us one of the days. What's it like being on a mission to get clips with Van around?
Shit blows my mind man. That is actually the first day that I have ever went out to actually film anything with Van around. I’ve met up with him in LB before but he was working on a 'How-To" with Ride, so that was the main focus and I was just tagging along. That day was fun though, sick to have Stew and Van in town and it worked for you to meet up last minute. I was really hyped you were able to come out because I for sure wanted to shoot a photo of that double rail hop at the famous stage spot in LB. I had wanted to get that one done for a while and it felt good to get it done with Van looking on.
Most of the days we've ridden together you have set stuff in mind and that's what we go handle. Is that how you like to operate when filming?
It just depends really. If I’m riding around LB and trying to really get some stuff done on a solo mission then I like to have a plan of some spots that I want to hit. I do a lot of riding around LB and looking for spots so I’m still finding stuff to film there and never seem to run out of stuff in around the neighborhood. I really like the solo days with a photographer and a filmer and maybe one other rider, because they seem to be the most productive, but they seem to be a little more stressful. It is always fun to go with a crew of friends though with a filmer and to not really have any set spots in mind, and seeing where the day takes us. It always seems extra rewarding to get a clip when you don’t have a plan. Or if I’m tagging along with someone to their spots and I can manage to find something around their spot. I’m usually not riding anything that anyone else wants to film on, so I have to go hunt around when I go out riding with a group and see what I can find.
Fit - Morgan Long Hoodbird Frame Promo
All killer. No filler. Taking flight on the Hoodbird - More Info
How were you feeling when returning to the roof-to-roof barspin only to have the same guy trying to kick us out again?
I thought for a second that maybe at least the same guy might not be there, but either way I was determined to get up there and at least give it one try no matter who was trying to kick us out.
Did it help you get over the hump and just send it?
A little bit. I wasn’t really stressing that clip too much, but I always like to take my time and not rush myself. I was stressing getting kicked out of the spot more than doing the trick, so once I was on the roof and saw the same guy who had kicked us out before I knew I had to send it.
You kept hitting me up to get one last clip. How'd you finally decide it was time to wrap it up?
It was just time to let this Hoodbird promo fly already.
How proud are you of the final product?
For sure the most stoked on this out of anything I’ve ever put out, I worked on this way longer than anything I’ve done in the past and of course having it be a video to promote my first signature frame makes it more special for me.
What's up next?
Now that this frame video is done I’m going to start working on another Dans Comp Web video with Doeby and also start stacking some clips for a signature grip promo. Other than that I’m not sure, I’m keeping my fingers crossed to get on a lot more trip and to get to travel some more and ride some new stuff.
Any thanks or shout outs?
Thanks to everyone who supports me and gives me the opportunity to do what I do. All my sponsors, Fit Bike Co, Dans Comp, and Cement Face Art. Thanks to all my family and friends and anyone who has shot photos of me or filmed me. Shout out to all the BMX websites and magazines who have showed me love and anyone who is passionate about anything. Shout out to DIG and for putting out good original content and Devin Feil for making this interview possible. Thanks to anyone who has helped me out in any way I really appreciate it.
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