Late Army staff sergeant's love of scuba diving inspires Palatine mom to write children's book
Echo Morgan was having an especially painful, emotional day in July 2020 as she walked and thought about her late son Matt, who'd died five months earlier in a scuba diving accident.
Then, something memorable happened.
"It sounds weird," the Palatine woman said, "but I swear -- he came to me and he said, 'Mom, you should write a children's book.'"
So Echo Morgan went home and jotted down the first draft of what eventually became the book "Scuba Matt's Underwater Adventure," which she published this year.
Thirty-year-old Matt Morgan, an Army staff sergeant, was found dead Feb. 2, 2020, after a recreational dive in the waters off Okinawa, Japan, where he was stationed. It appears he passed out, the exact cause unknown, his mother said.
The book is a way to remember and honor the life of her son, who loved the ocean and scuba diving, she said.
"That was my son's passion, sharing the underwater world with others, and I feel like the book continues that passion, continues that story," she said. "Even through this tragedy, he'd want to encourage us to explore and understand the beautiful underwater world."
As a way to make an even more tangible impact, Echo Morgan plans to donate half the profits from her book sales to fund scuba diving scholarships for disabled veterans through the nonprofit Diveheart, based in Downers Grove.
"They are doing such amazing work. I am honored to be able to work with them," she said.
Diveheart founder and President Jim Elliott said the nonprofit is "honored and humbled" by Echo Morgan's commitment.
"Her story is heartbreaking," he said. "It's great way for her, and us, to honor his memory."
Diveheart, founded in 2001, provides adaptive scuba therapy and scuba opportunities for veterans, adults and children with disabilities. The nonprofit conducts programs at pools throughout the suburbs, including the Elgin YMCA and Vaughan Athletic Center in Aurora, plus Atlanta, Florida and Malaysia.
Programming was put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic and is just now restarting. Programs are free with the exception of scuba diving certification. That typically costs about $1,000 but is offered by the nonprofit for about $550. That's what Echo Morgan's donation will fund, he said.
The love for scuba diving runs in Morgan's family.
Echo started diving as a teenager, and she and her children -- Matt and his sister Marley -- were certified together in 2007.
"We always went on family diving vacations together," she said. "As he got older he got more and more into it, he became a certified master instructor."
The grief of losing a child is unfathomable, Echo Morgan said, her voice faltering. Writing "Scuba Matt's Underwater Adventure" was therapeutic, giving her a positive outlet to focus on, she said.
The book tells of a scuba instructor named Matt who meets a variety of sea animals -- a sea turtle, a puffer fish, a stingray, a jellyfish, a sea horse, a shark and more -- and learns about underwater life like coral reefs.
"Each page has a fun fact. It's educational as well," she said. "Even the adults say, 'Oh my God, I learned so much from this book.'"
The book's illustrations were done by Anastasia Moshkarina, based in Spain, whom Echo Morgan found after vetting three or four illustrators via an online service. The book's cover is based on a photo of Matt underwater, next to a sea turtle, taken during a Caribbean vacation around 2013.
Matt Morgan also loved baseball and was a pitcher at Palatine High School, from which he graduated in 2007. His family last year established a memorial baseball scholarship in his name at the high school.
"We are committed to funding it for 18 years, because my son's number was 18," his mother said.
Echo Morgan's second children's book, also inspired by her son, is titled "The Kindness Fairy." Her third book will be "Baseball Dreams," which she expects to publish early next year and will help fund the baseball scholarship program.
To find her books, visit Echo Morgan's Red Fin Books at redfinbooks.com.