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Computer science and economics major Matthew Isaiah Qualls, 21 of Marquand, was awarded a posthumous degree from Missouri S & T after his death in November.

Qualls suffered from an arrhythmia of the heart causing it to weigh more than twice the normal weight. 

"The preliminary autopsy for Matt showed he had an arrhythmia of his heart," Qualls' mother Anita Neil said. "The normal heart weighs 300 grams. Matt's weighed 650 and was operating at 10 percent."

While the condition was unknown to them all, Qualls had been having issues breathing and going up stairs.

"He just thought it was asthma and thought he needed to exercise more," Neil said. "He started rock climbing and loved it. He went from 260 pounds to 205 pounds. Anyone who has met Matt knew he had a big heart. We just never knew how big."

Neil described the experience saying everything was fine, and the next thing she knew he was passed out in front of his roommate.

Qualls' close friend and fellow student Victoria Kraemer accepted the posthumous Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science and Economics on behalf of the family during the Fall 2017 Commencement ceremony Dec. 16 at the Missouri University of Science and Technology campus.

At the time of his death, he had reached senior status and the college decided to let him be honored with the degree slightly short due to the situation. It is only on rare occasions they deem it appropriate to confer a student's degree posthumously. 

During his time at the university, he was lead visualizer for the Sig-Game.

"He visualized the Pacman person on the screen and then he would create it," Neil said. "They would compete as a team in a competition at the school. His team finished the project a week before he passed."

Qualls also worked as an intern for the Federal Reserve Bank last summer and was being sought out by Microsoft and three other unknown companies to fill an internship position this coming summer.

Graduating from Marquand-Zion High School a semester early in 2015, Neil said Qualls was always ahead in school.

"When he graduated from middle school he was already at a college level," Neil said. "I worked to expose him to all areas. I let him focus on the areas he preferred but I exposed him to everything."

Qualls' interest in computer programming began in eighth grade, when he built his first computer. 

"He took one apart to see how it was built and then he took other components and built one," Neil said. 

His love of computers in general may be credited to his mother. Neil lit up as she spoke of memories of having 9-month-old Qualls sitting on her lap in front of the computer while he would use the mouse to match the sounds with animal faces. 

Neil said she just wanted to stimulate his mind and keep him out of trouble but she ended up fueling his passion.

Qualls entered Missouri S&T with sophomore status as a nuclear engineering major. His family and friends could see how his eyes would light up talking about his computer science electives and encouraged him to follow his heart.

"I would tell him 'you need to change your major,'" Neil said. "He would say there was a need for nuclear engineers. He was going the logical way instead of the way his heart desired."

Almost a year in, Qualls changed his major to computer science and never looked back. 

Qualls was a very active student and enjoyed rock climbing, computer games, computer programming and reading.

"He will be missed by all who knew him," Neil said. "Thank God for the time we had with him."

Family and friends of Qualls plan to gather in the spring to spread his ashes.

Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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