Compton has taken a licking and keeps on ticking
RENO – Erik Compton has gone through more in his first 30 years on this planet than most people go through in a lifetime.
At age 9, Compton was told he had an illness called cardiomyopathy, which happens when the heart muscle is inflamed and unable to pump as hard as it should. It has led to not one, but two heart transplants.
“Well I was very upset with the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to play sports again,” said Compton, who received a sponsor’s exemption to play in the 12th annual Reno-Tahoe Open, which starts today at Montreux Country Club. “I had a rush of news all at the same time, so it was devastating for me and my family. It was probably hard for me to grasp at 9 years old.
“When they tell you that you’re eventually going to have a heart procedure, you’re scared to death because you are a young kid. Between the ages of 9 and 12 were tough because I wasn’t able to do things that I wanted to do, which was running around and doing things normal kids are doing.”
Three years later, he received a heart transplant, receiving the heart from a 15-year-old girl named Jannine, who was killed by a drunk driver. The procedure took place in Miami.
Jannine’s heart lasted approximately 16 years. In 2007, Compton suffered a heart attack, which meant he needed another heart because Jannine’s was finally being rejected by his body.
When Compton suffered the heart attack he was in the hospital because he didn’t feel well. If he hadn’t have been in the hospital at the time, he might not be with us today.
“That was a sign,” Compton said. “I couldn’t breathe and I was having a lot of pain. Signs are different for different people. I was lucky enough to survive that and get retransplanted. It’s one thing to have a heart attack; to have one with a transplant. It’s not something that most people survive. Had I not had the heart attack I might not have been retransplanted.
“Your body is eventually going to reject the tissues. That’s the biggest obstacle transplant recipients deal with. It has to do with the fact that it’s not my native organ, so for mine to last 16 years, but they do run into problems. Getting a new engine is critical.”
Compton’s current heart came from a young man named Isaac, who played volleyball at the University of Dayton. He was killed by a hit-and-run driver. Certainly the second transplant was easier to take.
“It’s a little bit easier when you are older,” Compton said. “I knew there might be a time in my life where I might get retransplanted. I was always in denial about it, thinking I could have that first transplant for the rest of my life.”
His career took a turn for the better this past March when he tied for 30th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, earning him $33,420, his largest paycheck of the season.
Approximately nine weeks later, after shooting an 82 at the Memorial, Compton attempted to qualify for the U.S. Open. He needed just to two-putt from 30 feet to secure a spot. Instead, he three-putted and had to go into a playoff. He finally secured his spot on the third extra hole.
Compton shot 77 and 81, missing the cut at Pebble Beach. Network television aired a lengthy feature on him during the Open, chronicling his health struggles.
Compton doesn’t get tired of talking about his plight. He feels he can help recipients and donor families alike.
“We’re trying to find a way to make a better life with transplants,” Compton said. “It’s going to continue to go on. So if I can talk about my story and things that I do, it can help others.
“A lot of people still don’t believe that organ transplants work. It’s affecting a lot of people. If I can get my message out, and my message is more than about the game of golf; playing golf. Obviously the transplants are what people are going to remember about me whenever I move on.”
With Montreux being such a hilly course, you wonder how well Compton will hold up this week. He’s played nine holes a day since arriving over the weekend. He’ll get a look at the whole course today.
“This is just like any other event where I have to walk up hills,” he said. “Muirfield has some big hills. We were in Mexico a few weeks ago, and that was pretty hilly, too. I’ll be trying to get through the course like anybody else does. Obviously it’s a bit more challenging for somebody who has heart issues, but I embrace the challenge and look forward to seeing and testing my skills against a tough curse like this.”
Compton tees it up at 8:48 a.m. Hopefully there will be a decent gallery on hand to cheer him on. If anybody deserves some support, it’s Compton.