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3 Hearts, 3 Livers, and 1 Special Bond With Erik Compton

Erik Compton
[ErikCompton.Com]

I suck at golf.

Erik Compton does not.

When it comes to extra organs, however, we’ve both double-bogeyed.

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We’ve used a total of eight hearts and livers between us.

He’s on his first liver, but third heart.

For me, Heart No. 1 continues to pound away. My first two livers ended up in the pathology lab at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla. It’s located about a third-of-mile south of Florida Field, Tim Tebow’s statue and the spot where Aaron Hernandez was once honored with a ceremonial cement sidewalk plaque as an All-American.

The powers that be at UF ripped out Hernandez’s plaque last year following his arrest on murder charges with the same efficiency and precision as my two transplant surgeons.

Compton teed off Thursday at 7:07 a.m. on Pinehurst No. 2. [He finished tied for second overall, Sunday.] The last time he played at the U.S. Open was four years ago and he missed the cut.

Thankfully, his surgeons never missed the cut. Neither did mine.

Organ transplant survivors often seem to find each other, much like Dr. Charles Xavier’s “Mutants” in the “X-Men” series. There is something undeniably “mutant” when you’re walking around with a heart, liver or set of lungs that once belonged to someone else. At the same time, you don’t think about it until you think about it.

Compton’s tale was shared this week by multiple media types.

Nary a cliché was missed.

While that may be someone else’s heart in his chest, the willpower and determination is all Compton’s.

Erik Compton: Prepping for 2nd US Open while grateful for new shot at life thanks to 3rd heart

...remember this the next time an athlete talks about overcoming adversity.

There’s definitely a soft spot in my heart for Compton, in addition to several hard arteries carrying blood from it.

Compton, like most organ transplant recipients, still deals with complications resulting from his surgeries. Transplant patients are on various anti-rejection and anti-inflammatory medications for the rest of their lives. Compton was sick during The Memorial two weeks ago and had trouble getting out out of bed because bad allergies affected his immune system, which was already weakened by his necessary medication.

Compton played for 10 years before earning his PGA card in 2012. He was back in qualifying school a year later. His 2014 earnings stand at $863,233, boosted by fifth-place finishes at Bay Hill in Orlando and in New Orleans.

My 2014 earnings are not nearly as impressive.

Compton is ranked No. 187 in the world, 84th in the Fed-Ex Cup Standings and remains winless In 99 career PGA starts. He qualified for the U.S. Open by playing 38 holes a week ago Monday. His spot was not secured until he dropped a six-foot putt on the second playoff hole. He called it “a tough little putt in the dark.” Walking 38 holes in one day and then winning with a long putt on the second playoff hole is mentally and physically taxing enough for those of us on our first hearts.

Surviving two major organ transplants qualifies as one of those “life-altering experiences.” Compton received his first transplant at age 12 because of childhood heart disease. He got his second when he was 28, back in 2008.

When his first transplanted heart began to fail, he called his mother and told her: "Goodbye. I'm not going to make it." Compton drove himself to the hospital while coughing up blood and barely conscious. Been there, done that.

“I was basically minutes away from dying," Compton told The Associated Press this week. “People say that dying is peaceful. Well, maybe when you’re dead it’s peaceful. But the process of having a widow-maker heart attack is very painful.”

Dying slowly over the course of 20 months was not nearly as dramatic. The terror Compton felt was spread out in small doses. Anger was my preferred drug of choice when it came to the pain, physical and otherwise. Much of what my wife and son heard from me was laced with “f-bombs” and other profanities that would make “Ted” blush.

My first transplanted liver died after it was implanted on Nov. 21, 2008.

There was another notable transplant of sorts that day in Gainesville. Sophomore UF backup QB Cameron Newton transplanted a computer from a friend’s dorm room that night and eventually tossed it out his window when campus police arrived to investigate the theft.

Six days after my first transplant, I was in full rejection and back on the transplant list. Miraculously, the transplanted liver began to function. Slowly, I regained basic abilities. After 22 days, I was released from the hospital, complete with a Wound-Vac attached to my abdomen for another month.

Countless, and I mean that literally, follow-up surgeries, in-patient procedures, lab tests, blood draws, abdominal taps and doctor visits locally and two hours away in Gainesville followed for the next 19 months.

By the summer of 2010, I was back on the transplant list. When it comes to autoimmune hepatitis: “You can't stop it, you can only hope to contain it.”

My second transplant occurred on Sept. 1, 2010. This came after two false alarms in three days. The moment I awoke following the worst night of my life, I felt a new-found clarity in my head and an inner strength that 30-plus years in journalism has not given me the tools to properly describe.

When my wife visited for the afternoon, she found me out of bed and sitting in the room’s lounge chair. Some of that was my industrial-strength, get-you-banned-from-the-NFL-for-life-sized, doses of painkillers and steroids. Some of it was real happiness, gratitude and euphoria.

I left the hospital the two days after Cameron Newton made his second start for the eventual national-champion Auburn Tigers.

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A much-thinner version of me leaves
the hospital 10 days after my second
liver transplant. [Mrs. OBF Photo]

My third liver would be the charm, just like Compton’s third heart remains his.

Compton’s life experience no doubt carries similar tales of medical peril and triumph.

There are countless myths regarding organ transplantation in this country. Compton and I are living proof that the system is not rigged solely for people like Steve Jobs and Dick Cheney. Organ donation remains a gift and should never be mandatory. However, the wishes of the deceased must always be followed. In Massachusetts and many other states, that is the law.

Compton, like many other transplant recipients, has found that fear is not what it used to be.

"I’ve been through some tough times,” he said this week. “I’m just happy to be out here playing and feeling strong. There’s something to be said for going through what I’ve gone through. When you step on the tee, you’re not intimidated by other people, you’re not intimidated by the situation.”

Even better, Compton said he’s using his platform this week to promote organ donation. Glad to help. I hope he wins by three shots.

[For more information on organ donation, visit the New England Organ Bank’s website here.]

The OBF Column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or at his
Obnoxious Boston Fan Email Address
. Thanks always for reading and pass the clicker.


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