It’s been more than four years since Erik Compton had his heart replaced for the second time. Several months earlier, the PGA Tour player’s health had deteriorated to the point where he eventually went into cardiac arrest, and after driving himself to the hospital, doctors immediately inserted a stent to fortify a weakened artery.
Looking back on the circumstances that allowed Compton to seek medical attention right away makes the ending to that scary episode all the more improbable. Compton, it turns out, had narrowly missed the cut in an event in Idaho after imploding on one hole and was fishing on a golf course shortly before he felt tingling in his arm.
That’s when Compton high-tailed it to the hospital, speeding through a toll booth with his life in the balance. So severe was his particular type of heart trauma that it’s commonly referred to as a “widow maker,” and had he been on the golf course when it struck, he may have died.
Working on his third heart, Compton is anything but, especially considering his arduous path to earning full membership on the PGA Tour this year for the first time in his career.
Compton had been playing on the Nationwide Tour, where he won the Mexico Open to finish 13th on the money list. That victory secured Compton’s place in golf’s highest circuit.
Before that, Compton played on the Canadian Tour following a decorated career as amateur in which he rose to the top-ranked junior in the United States by 1998. At that time, Compton’s health was bad enough that he passed out while at the PGA Tour’s qualifying school.
Compton nevertheless turned professional shortly thereafter, even as his second heart continued to worsen. He had received his first transplant at the age of 12, three years after he was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, a disease that inflames the heart muscle.
Compton became the youngest heart transplant patient in the history of Jackson Memorial Hospital in his home town of Miami. His second transplant came via a donor who was killed in a motorcycle accident, and Compton since has met the donor’s family.
These days, golf provides a vehicle through which Compton can increase awareness for organ donation. He supports the Miami-based Transplant Foundation and encourages everyone, as he puts it, to “donate life.”
“People who really get it and have been affected by it, I think it really means a lot to them to see me out here playing,” Compton said. “For my friends and family, those that saw me in the really, really, tough times, it’s been really nice.”
So, too, was how Compton ended his round that included four bogeys on the front side and a final seven holes in which he made either birdie or bogey. On the 523-yard par-4 18th, Compton sent his tee shot 321 yards down the right fairway and landed his approach within 19 feet.
Faced with a tricky putt, Compton rolled it in for his third birdie in four holes, pumped his right fist and hugged his caddie. On his way to his golf cart for the ride up to the scorer’s table, Compton flipped the ball to a young spectator leaning along cart path railing.
The game plan for Compton as the temperature rises, he said, includes cutting back on practice, hydrating frequently and using a cold towel to keep his heart rate down. Remaining vigilant in that regard is especially important because once his heart rate is elevated, it becomes more difficult to regulate in the heat.
“I’m always reminded [of his condition] with the fans,” Compton said. “They always cheer me on. People are very supportive, and, you know, that’s what it’s all about.”
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