It all started in February 1992. When Compton was just 12 years old, he received his first heart transplant because of a dilated cardiomyopathy diagnosis at nine years old – his heart was unable to adequately pump blood as it should.
Thanks to that first transplant, he was able to lead a normal and active life, and begin his astounding career in golf. Seventeen years later, however, the main artery in the front of his heart was totally blocked and Compton suddenly needed a second transplant. Luckily, he was able to hold out for a few months while he waited for a new heart.
“There weren’t as many people around that I could speak to. I was very young so I was scared and excited at the same time for a new life,” Compton explains. With no internet in the ’90s, and not very many peers he could relate to, it was an isolating experience to say the least.
But an adult transplant was challenging for different reasons. At 28 years old, Compton went in for his second transplant in May 2008. “I was in the middle of my golf career. I was a young man trying to start a life and a family. I was scared for other reasons,” remembers Compton. “And I also didn’t have that many people to talk to who went through it a second time.”
Advocating for others
His advice to anyone anticipating a transplant of any kind is to be patient and to take it all one day at a time. Relying on your support system is also crucial; having family and friends who are there for you, as well as trusting the nurses and doctors who are taking care of you and making sure everything is as it should be, is half the battle.
The Erik Compton Foundation has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support donor advocacy and education, medical-based transplant research and youth support programs. Of his experience giving back to youths waiting for transplants, Compton simply says, “A lot of times the young kids are the ones who inspire me because they’re doing so many marvelous things.”
Like all superheroes, with great power comes great responsibility, and Compton is no exception. He embraces the responsibility that comes with being a professional athlete who’s gone through not one but two heart transplants. Unlike most of us, Compton has been blessed with three chances at life and he is appreciative every single day.
He’s also appreciative of what a heart transplant means. “We all have to realize the gift of life and the beauty of transplant happens with the fall of another human being. It’s not easy because there is somebody on the other side of the story. All recipients carry that with them, whether it’s a living donor or not, this beautiful gift comes at the cost of somebody else. We have to be thankful for the donors,” Compton concludes.
To the donors, whomever you are, thank you for your selfless gift.