From Hospital to US Open in 18 Months


2008 U.S. OpenSAN DIEGO -- Brian Kortan felt the pain in his chest, then his jaw, then the heaviness in his arms. He put on his T-shirt and shorts, walked upstairs to his buddys room and said, Cmon, weve got to get to the emergency room.
He was having a heart attack, and when a man is 35 years old and having a heart attack'a so-called widow maker thats caused by blockage of the left anterior descending artery'its not uncommon for that trip to the emergency room to be the last trip he takes.
Kortan survived that scare in August 2006, and the fact that hes still around to talk about it means that, in many ways, hes already playing in the bonus round of life.
That he is also playing in the U.S. Open'well, thats just another one of those dreams that Kortan can check off his list.
Its going to be a great, gratifying experience, he said.
He will be there at 9:01 a.m. Thursday on the first tee box at Torrey Pines, 14 clubs in the bag, a handful of well-wishers on the other side of the ropes and a defibrillator near his heart. The defibrillator, about the size of a cell phone, was surgically implanted about a year ago.
Odds are, he wont win a championship this week. But then again, does he really have to be holding a trophy on Sunday to be called a champion?
He got his second chance, and slowly but surely hes been making it, said Kortans wife, Elaine. Id say playing in the U.S. Open is going to be a highlight for him.
Only the hardcore golf fans will remember Kortan.
He spent 2004 on the PGA TOUR. Made eight cuts. Earned almost $160,000. But that wasnt enough, and so he went back down to the Nationwide Tour in 2005. Lost his card there, too, though that turned out to be the least of his problems.
He knew of heart problems on his mothers side of the family but never did much about it. He is listed at 5-foot-3, 150 pounds and said those numbers were about the same before the heart attack. His cholesterol was low. He never had trouble walking the hundreds of miles of fairways he traversed each year as a pro golfer. He felt the occasional pains in his chest and a tightening of the jaw'the classic symptoms of heart problems, he said'but never thought much of that, either.
I was just completely naive, he said.
Staying at his friends house while playing on the South Dakota Tour, he made it to the hospital quickly enough on the night of the heart attack for doctors to save his life.
He emerged having lost about 40 to 50 percent of his heart function.
Ive had some changes in my life, I guess, he said.
He works out more. Eats better. He and Elaine keep better track of what their kids, 3-year-old Beau and 7-year-old Cade, are eating, too. Kortans mother got a check-up after Brians scare, and she had six stents put in her heart. Brian has three.
Golf, however, has not been put on the back burner.
Once you get past the top of this list'family and friends and things' golf is what makes me who I am. It makes me the person I am, Kortan said. It will be there. It will be there when Im done. When I hang the clubs up and decide to do something different someday, its still going to be a part of me.
After leaving the hospital and recuperating for a bit, doctors gave Kortan the go-ahead to get back into competition mode. But after a scare with some readings in his heart function, they insisted he take a break and go home to Albuquerque, N.M., to have a defibrillator implanted in his chest.
Its a small device that monitors the activity in his heart. If things arent operating normally, the device can shock his heart back into normalcy.
Fortunately, mine hasnt had to kick in yet, Kortan said. But its even to the point where, if it does, if I went into some sort of cardiac arrhythmia, it would actually shock me. And when it does shock you, it puts you to the floor.
But Kortan doesnt wait around wondering if thats going to happen.
He lives, plays golf, goes about his business the way a perfectly healthy person would. Walking Torrey Pines wont be nearly as hard for him, he says, as some of the tracks hes walked on the PGA TOUR'Castle Pines at 7,000 feet, or Memphis at 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity.
Yes, there will be stress this week, but doctors told him that shouldnt stop him from competing, either. After all, what job doesnt have stress?
He takes precautions, but he doesnt worry about anything, Elaine said. The defibrillator is the backup and he knows its there.
His golf game, as should be clear, is rounding back into form. He made it through two rounds of U.S. Open qualifying and was the medalist at the sectional round in Littleton, Colo.
He has finished in the top 5 three times on the Adams Pro Golf TOUR this year, and there are possible paths back to the big time for him, maybe via the Nationwide Tour'or maybe based on something that happens this week.
But even if this week ends early, it would be hard to call it anything but a success.
Im glad Im able to have this experience, Kortan said, because there were definitely some times over the last year and a half that I didnt know if Id ever get to experience something like this ever again.
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