Last Thursday, in West Virginia, at the lovely old Greenbrier, a short golfer appeared visible approaching the 18th green, the final hole of the opening day $6 million PGA Classic there. The golfer coming down the fairway was named Erik Compton. He parred out, finishing the round at 63 to tie for the lead. Only it was Isaac Klosterman's heart that beat under the leader's shirt.
What makes Compton's success all the more surprising is that Klosterman's heart isn't his second -- it's his third.
Growing up in Miami, he was only 9 when he learned that he had a rare disease, which caused his heart to enlarge. He finally got a transplant three years later, took up golf, and became the country's best junior player. He turned pro in 2001, but by 2007 he had a massive heart attack, nearly dying. "Well, I'd had a great life," he told me when I interviewed Erik last month for HBO's Real Sports -- but then, he got Isaac's heart and started life all over again . . . but now with a wife, too, and a miracle baby that doctors told him he could never father because of all his medications.
Amazingly, he qualified for the U.S. Open this year, despite having to play 39 holes in a playoff. He's made five cuts in the seven PGA tournaments he's played this year, but the grind is still often too much for his rehabilitation, and at the Greenbrier, he faded on the last day. That part is heartless.
He has met the donor family, the Klostermans. He knows about their son, whose heart lets him play PGA golf. "Transplants are fine, but a twisted thing you live with," Erik says. But Isaac's parents, Lillian and Jack, had been immediate in granting permission for all his organs to be taken from him. "Otherwise," Lillian told me, "it would have been a total waste of a good person's body."
In some countries, there is a policy called Presumed Consent, where unless a person denies the use of his organs upon death, they automatically can be transplanted. In the U.S., it's the other way round: You have to give permission.
Three thousand Americans are waiting for heart transplants today. Presumed Consent -- well, Presumed Generosity might be more accurate -- would make it possible for another Erik Compton to walk down a PGA fairway or to play a piano symphony or to paint a masterpiece or just to come back home and greet a family with love and gratitude.
Transplanted hearts run out in 15 years or so. Erik isn't worried. He's sure medicine will advance enough in that time. I met the late Dr. Christiaan Barnard, the first heart-transplant surgeon, in Capetown years ago. "Someday," he said in a thick, South African accent, "ve vill have a body transplant. You just keep your brain and get a whole new body."
"You're joking," I said.
"No," Dr. Bernard said, "and your vife will lof you more."
I think Erik Compton will be playing seniors golf before he's through.