- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2012

Erik Compton can’t shake this darn cough. Three weeks have passed, and he’s still hacking. Standing on the seventh tee of Congressional Country Club’s Blue Course during Monday’s Pro-Am at the AT&T National, you could hear the stuff in Compton’s lungs gurgle. Later, on the 13th green, he needed to rest. He crossed his legs and sat down in the first cut while others in his group putted out.

This has been the 32-year-old Compton’s reality since he was a boy. The battle royale inside him is constant: medicine versus immune system versus heart. And yet, here he is, a two-time heart transplant recipient playing his first season on the PGA Tour.

“It’s unbelievable that he made it to the tour,” said Charlie DeLucca, Compton’s longtime mentor and coach. “It’s more unbelievable that he’s alive.”

“It’s pretty gutsy,” added Kyle Stanley, one of Compton’s friends on the PGA Tour. “Golf is hard for most of us with one heart, and he’s on his third and doing great. It’s a remarkable story, very cool.”

Compton acknowledges how extraordinary it is, a perspective formed from countless trips to the doctor and a daily routine that includes taking almost three dozen pills that, among other things, try to prevent his immune system from attacking his foreign heart.

Erik Compton, 32, made the cut at a PGA Tour event five months after his second heart transplant. His health issues began when he was a 9-year-old growing up in Miami. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
Erik Compton, 32, made the cut at a PGA Tour event five ... more >

He marvels at the gifts donated to him by separate victims of fatal auto accidents in 1992 and 2008. In those persons’ deaths, he was given life.

On the left sleeve of his golf shirt is stitched the light blue and green logo of DonateLife.net, a non-profit organization intent on increasing the number of organ donors. Compton’s mission on tour is to win, of course. He has made 10 cuts in 15 events this season, and he shot a 2-over par 73 in the first round Thursday. But he also uses his sporting spotlight as a platform.

“I just want people to have the same chance I’ve had to succeed in life,” he said.

Compton grew up a typical kid in Miami. He loved baseball. When he was 9, though, he began suffering dizzy spells and shortness of breath. A physical revealed a viral cardiomyopathy, which affects the heart muscle. He needed a new heart.

“All I wanted to do was, like, ‘Aw yeah, just put a heart in and I’ll go back and play baseball,’” he said. “But then when you go through it, it’s tough.”

Doctors cautioned against contact sports after Compton was diagnosed, so he replaced baseball with golf.

“He was very competitive,” said Peter Compton, Erik’s father. “It was unfortunate this thing hit him right in his personality. He did find an outlet through the golf.”

Even that was difficult, though, in the first year after the transplant. There were junior tournaments in which he rolled his bag of clubs on a pull cart while other boys had to carry theirs.

Side effects of the immunosuppressant drugs included intense full-body swelling. His father took him to less-crowded golf courses so Erik wouldn’t be embarrassed by his appearance.

“He was so blubbery that I had to help him get up on the tee boxes and get squared away so he could start hitting the ball,” Peter Compton said.

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