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Erik Compton, a 2-time heart transplant recipient, plays on with the gift of life
Compton’s golf game rapidly evolved. By 16 he was exceptional, DeLucca recalled. At 19, he was named the American Junior Golf Assocation’s player of the year.
He followed his career at the University of Georgia with stints on the Nationwide, Canadian and other minor-league tours. His seven professional wins, most notably the Nationwide Tour’s Mexico Open last June, have helped him make a living. But his health constantly is at odds with his talent.
“He’s a great, great player of the golf ball,” said Kelly Murray, a Reston resident and Compton’s close friend from their days on the Canadian Tour. “He can hit any shot you want. But he’s never feeling great. All the anti-rejection medication, all the pills he takes, there’s issues going on all the time.”
The greatest was a heart attack in 2007. Transplanted hearts have a shelf life. They deteriorate as they eventually succumb to rejection by the recipient’s body.
Compton’s second heart lasted 16 years until May 2008. At age 29, he was unsure of whether he would survive a second transplant, much less continue his golf career.
“There were a lot of times where you think about your mortality,” he said. “You lay there and look outside the window and wonder what’s going on outside of life. You definitely think about life and think about where we come from and where we’re going, things like that.”
Not only did Compton continue playing, though, he made a cut at a PGA Tour event five months after his second transplant.
He has continued his fight since then. He earned his 2012 PGA Tour card by finishing 13th on the Nationwide money list last season.
“He’s won at every level he’s played at,” DeLucca said. “He should win on the tour. You can see rounds; it’s just playing four days in a row, which I think he can do. He has already proved that, but he’s got to be really healthy. The traveling doesn’t help him, which is part of the tour. That’s what he’s got to figure out.”
Compton has learned to manage his health as best he can. He obsesses about germs. When Murray caddies for him, he writes an ‘E’ on the cap of Compton’s water bottle to ensure no one but Compton drinks from it.
“His sickness keeps him from getting to the top stages,” Murray said, citing limitations on practice time. “I guarantee you if he starts to feel good, he’ll be unbelievable.”
DeLucca and Murray believe that eventually will become reality. Compton has the time to make it happen, thanks to the gift of life.
“The one thing as I’ve gotten older, it is amazing to me that I’m still alive and I’m playing as a result of somebody else’s organ inside me,” Compton said. “My original heart is gone 22 years ago. I just keep on going because someone who is not alive anymore. That’s really, really neat.”
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