IRVING — Erik Compton swings the golf club with precision, much like any other pro on the PGA tour, but there is one major difference.
"I've had three hearts in my body, but I’ve had two heart transplants," said the 32-year-old.
Inside Compton's chest now beats the heart of a young athlete killed in a motorcycle accident.
Because of his transplant history, Compton has been called a walking miracle. He received his first heart transplant at the age of 12 in 1992. When that heart began to fail, he was lucky enough to receive a second organ, just four years ago.
Dr. Shelley Hall, the director of heart transplants at Baylor University Medical Center, said golf is the perfect sport for a heart recipient because it doesn't require the sudden bursts of energy that a sprinter might need — although there have been transplant patients who have run a marathon.
"A heart transplant recipient no longer has the nervous connection to tell the heart what to do, so they only have the circulating hormones," Hall said. "Therefore, they are much more limited in something that requires immediate response by the heart — such as a sprinter or a rapid aggressive swimmer. Golf, luckily, is a lower-key sport that doesn't require immediate heart bursts, and therefore they are not as limited."
"I deal with stress a little bit differently," Compton explained. "I'm not a doctor, but I know how I feel, and working with my transplant team of doctors we've come up with a regimen that I need to do and follow that, and it seems to work. If I can handle the stresses of the tour out here and travel, it just shows how healthy one can be after a transplant."
Compton is a rookie on the tour. His mission is not to just win tournaments, but to bring more awareness to organ donation, thanks to biotech company Genentech which sponsors him.
"Obviously it's fitting for what I’ve had in my life, having two heart transplants, and basically I’m out here on the tour," Compton said. "I'm pretty much a walking spokesperson for organ donation and organ awareness."
Those cheering him loudest this week as he plays in the HP Byron Nelson Championship are the thousands of Americans who are on organ donor waiting lists.
"On the course, I’m just focusing on my game," Compton said. "The competitive spirit of what I went through waiting for a transplant and laying there and going through the procedures mentally... it's very difficult. It's a difficult time. When I'm out here playing, I tend to forget about the issues that I’ve had and focus on my game."