Heart Transplant Puts Golfer Erik Compton Back In Game One of the golfers in the recent Greenbrier Classic was playing with a donated heart -- and it's not even his first. Erik Compton has had two heart transplants, and he can still swing with the best of them. He shared the tournament lead after the first round.
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Erik Compton's Gifts: Talent, And A Donor's Heart

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Erik Compton's Gifts: Talent, And A Donor's Heart

Erik Compton's Gifts: Talent, And A Donor's Heart

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A sports hero isn't always someone who wins the tournament. Commentator Frank Deford has this story of one such figure from the golf world.

FRANK DEFORD: In May, two years ago, Isaac Klosterman, 26 years old, a fine young man, a former college volleyball player, was riding his motorcycle one night in Florida when a hit-and-run driver pounded the bike from the rear. Isaac never saw what hit him.

Last Thursday in West Virginia, at the lovely old Greenbrier, a short golfer appeared visible approaching the eighteenth green, the final hole of the opening day of the $6 million PGA Classic there. The golfer coming down the fairway was named Erik Compton. He parred out, finishing the round in 63 to tie for the lead. Only it was Isaac Klosterman's heart that beat under the leader's shirt. And even more incredibly, that heart is Erik's third.

Growing up in Miami, he was only nine 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.

Amazingly, he qualified for the U.S. Open this year, having to play 39 holes in a playoff, because fatigue is Erik's greatest enemy. 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 had been immediate in granting permission for all his organs to be taken from him. Otherwise, Lillian Klosterman 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. Here, it's the other way round: You have to give permission.

Three thousand Americans are waiting for heart transplants today. Presumed Consent would make it possible for another Erik Compton to walk down a PGA fairway, or to play a piano symphony, or 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 Christiaan Barnard, the first heart-transplant surgeon, in Capetown years ago. Someday, he said, we will have a body transplant. You just keep your brain and get a whole new body.

You're joking, doctor, I said.

No, Dr. Bernard said, and your wife will love you more.

I think Erik Compton will be playing seniors' golf before he's through.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Frank Deford joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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