- Associated Press - Sunday, May 17, 2015

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) - Kenzie Neisen always had a kiss for her brother Thomas.

Mornings began with a peck on the cheek and a message: “Have a great day.”

On March 26, the Oklahoma State freshman golfer traveled hundreds of miles to return home and give Thomas a final kiss. One day later, the 15-year-old died following complications from Hunter Syndrome, a rare genetic disease, the Tulsa World (https://bit.ly/1ESdEcL ) reported.

It was the second time the Neisen family had been through this hurt. In 2009, Kenzie’s older brother, Samuel, died at 16 from the same disease.

One day after attending Thomas’ funeral in their hometown of New Prague, Minnesota, on March 31, Kenzie returned to OSU. She was emotionally spent, but not without support. Her church family helped her. Her coaches were there for her. The men’s and women’s golf teams catered to her needs.

And then - one month after her final kiss to Thomas - Kenzie defeated 44 other golfers to win the Big 12 championship.

Her brothers were on her mind while she celebrated her playoff victory. It was the first time the Neisen family had been together since the funeral.

“After I made my birdie putt, I didn’t know what to do with myself,” Kenzie said. “There were a rush of emotions - from being so proud of myself and excited to thinking about my brothers and having my family there . it was surreal.”

“To go through everything she did that month and win the tournament was very special,” her mother, Angie Neisen, said. “We all kind of broke down afterwards.”

A golf course has always been a second home for the Neisens. Thomas Neisen, then just a toddler, loved his job when the family headed to the New Prague Golf Club.

“He loved being in the golf cart,” Kenzie recalled. “He’d be so excited to get out on the green, take out the flag for us and put it back in when we were finished.”

By age 3 - and similar to his older brother Samuel - Thomas began to lose speech and the ability to walk.

Hunter Syndrome, which nearly always occurs in males, occurs when an enzyme the body needs is either missing or doesn’t work properly, according to the Mayo Clinic. There is no cure.

Despite not knowing how much the boys could comprehend, the family spoke to them like any other child. They were treated normally.

“The one thing that comes to mind is just McKenzie’s unconditional love to Thomas,” Angie Neisen said. “The first thing she did every morning was to give him a good morning kiss and tell him to have a great day. And the first thing she did when coming home from school was give him a kiss and ask ‘How was your day?’ “

It’s not difficult to be inspired, Kenzie said, when seeing how much her brothers battled each day. Hit a bad tee shot? No problem. Post a bad round? Things could be much worse.

“That just comes from our parents,” Kenzie said. “They taught us that you are going to have bad days on the course, but it’s kind of how you handle the situation. That’s how it is in life. It all connects with keeping things in perspective all the time.”

Kenzie got a phone call in March while playing at a tournament in Hawaii that Thomas was being admitted to the hospital. Two weeks later, while at a San Diego tournament, Kenzie was told she needed to come home to say goodbye.

Thomas was kept on life support so Kenzie could give him one final kiss.

“I was so happy that I was able to do that,” Kenzie said. “That meant a lot to me, to be able to come back and be there.”

Still, at age 19 and an 11-hour drive from home, it has been tough.

“I’ve had moments on the course where emotions come out of nowhere and you start crying and you don’t know what to do with yourself,” Kenzie said.

That’s where her OSU family lifted her up.

“Put yourself in a parent’s shoes,” Angie Neisen said. “We’re a close family and to have her that far away, it’s hard enough just being a freshman. Then to have a death in the family, a whirlwind trip home, visitation, funeral and then, the next day, fly back to school, that’s hard to see.

“But, as a parent, I had a real sense of peace because I knew what she was going back to . people at Oklahoma State are so supportive.

“I feel like she has a family away from home when she’s there.”

On April 26, with OSU teammates and her family watching, she became the Cowgirls’ first Big 12 champion since 2010 after defeating Baylor’s Laura Lonardi in a playoff.

She is thankful to everyone for their support during a month that was an emotional roller coaster.

“Going into the locker room and seeing everyone’s picture on the wall and thinking my name and face will be on there soon … it’s pretty cool to think that I’ll be up there with the other women who won it and how successful they’ve become.

“It’s a pretty cool experience and fun to say that I’m a Big 12 champion.”


Information from: Tulsa World, https://www.tulsaworld.com

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