Golf Saved My LifeMarch 13, 2013

I'm A Walking, Golfing Miracle

Stainless steel, plastic, nylon, titanium, cow parts, pig parts and cadaver sewn into my pericardium: my million-dollar heart after 12 surgeries.

My first memory is in the hospital. The light is bright, and I'm on my back, aware of being in this world. The image is fleeting, but there. I was only a few weeks old, and some people say this is impossible. But in my next memory I'm definitely 3. I'm with my mom going up the ramp to the doctor's office, and I have a horrible, sticky pain in my chest.

By age 5 I knew there was something wrong with the way I couldn't keep up with other kids, but I didn't know it was out of the ordinary to see a doctor four times a week. It didn't strike me as particularly odd to overhear arguments about how long you would live. It wasn't until I was 9 that my condition was truly explained to me.

I was born with a complex heart defect. When I was a month old, I suffered a stroke that wiped out half my brain. This is why I have such limited use of the left side of my body. There are severe deformities in my lungs, and my immune system is a joke. I'm not the first "blue baby" in my paternal lineage, but I'm the first to survive. I've never attended school. I've lived on the pioneer of surgery, and medical articles have been written about me.

When I was 15 I felt like giving up. Despite how hard I'd fought--enduring collective years in hospitals, swallowing umpteen medications a day, being told I couldn't play baseball and given a yo-yo, the very act of breathing--I'd reached a point where I was just tired of it all. Every little victory was followed by greater setbacks. I was ready to go.

Worse was life at home. My dad and mom were constantly fighting. The police had our address memorized, I'm sure. A visit to family court solved nothing, and I couldn't help but feel my medical issues were a root cause. Nothing's more stressful than being unable to run from a fight. My dad will tell you that my mom poisoned me against him, but the bottom line is, I haven't seen him in three years, and don't plan to.

What I was also getting really sick of, with so much time in the hospital, was cartoons. My cardiac therapist was a big golfer, and so we began watching a lot of Golf Channel. I got into it. I told my mom I wanted to visit a golf course before I died.

The first time I went to The First Tee of Greater Philadelphia, I was overweight and arrived in a stroller with an oxygen tank pushed by my mom. Coach Jeff showed me how to putt. And then I putted against the other kids, and it was about the happiest day of my life. This place wasn't the hospital, and it wasn't home.

At age 16 I had never left the sight or sound of my mom, except with trained personnel. It took some sweat for coach Jeff to convince my mom I would be OK with him on the course. We took a cart, and my mom almost freaked when we came back and she saw I was without my oxygen cannula.

"It's OK, Mom," I said. "I feel fine without it."

When I'm on the golf course life is almost perfect. I have a two-handed backswing and a one-handed through-swing because my left hand won't stay on the grip. But there are infinite ways to hit a golf ball pure, and I can make lots of bogeys, sometimes pars. In golf you have to let go of the past a little bit at a time and focus on what's next, which is something I'm pretty good at.

I'm now 19 and recently grew for the first time in years. I've reached 5 feet, and to accommodate this I just had 10 screws put in my legs. I've got another surgery for my ankles this spring, but, hey, I'm excited for anything that's going to help me gain distance.

The doctors can't believe my progress. I tell them not to overthink it. When you're relaxed, the body can heal faster. It's the golf, stupid.

Coach Jeff and my mom just got married, but that's a whole other story. My life is like a reality show. I'm ready to go away to college.