To Live and Love


National ChampionshipST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The golf course is Jon Vanpoucke’s sanctuary, but Lori Vida is his life.

Sit with the former Marine for just a moment and it’s clear that he loves the game. But it’s more apparent that his wife is the reason he wakes up in the morning.

The 35-year-old, who served time overseas in the Gulf War, has both arms tattooed with reminders of Lori, especially the left arm where there is a striking image of his wife with rosary beads next to her. His left ring finger doesn’t have a wedding band, but it simply says “LORI.”

If ever anyone was dealt a difficult hand in life, it’s Lori Vida, although you’ll find a tough time getting her or anyone in her family to complain about the situation. In a nutshell, the 40-year-old who once was a famous hair model, a real mover and shaker in the San Diego area, is sick.

She has hepatitis C, stage 4 cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer and is a diabetic. She takes 21 pills a day (14 in the morning, seven in the evening) and checks her blood sugar at least three times a day.

“To be hit with all of this at once is difficult, but she’s a fighter, always has been,” Vanpoucke said Monday in the clubhouse of St. Johns Golf & Country Club after shooting 88 in the second round of the Golf Channel Amateur Tour National Championship. Vanpoucke shot 90 Sunday in the first round at World Golf Village and is playing in the Palmer Flight for handicaps between 4-7.9.

There are so many different legs to this story that it’s difficult to know where to begin.

The couple met six years ago in a La Jolla, Calif., bar and hit it off right away. Vanpoucke sensed that he had met this woman before and it hit him. She was the same girl who, 17 years prior, kicked him and his buddies out of their beach party because they were too young and not part of the “in” crowd. They married a year after they met.

Over the next four years, Vanpoucke found himself in the emergency room more than 15 times because Lori was ill and would often vomit blood. What they discovered what that Lori was born with the hepatitis C virus because her mother, Margaret, needed a blood transfusion nearly 50 years prior when she was in a severe car accident with a drunk driver. Her mother had contracted hepatitis C and it was passed onto Lori at birth.

It wasn’t much longer until Lori Vida was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver.

So Vanpoucke and Vida visited a San Diego-area Scripps Clinic for specialized care. She was told that she wouldn’t live much longer than another five years.

The couple decided to live life to its fullest. Vanpoucke left his job and they took trips around the world, their favorite place being Portugal where they wanted to buy property and live. But the second time they visited Portugal Lori got sick and was in a hospital for a month.

When they returned to the states, Vanpoucke did more research and decided that the best treatment his wife could receive would be at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. So, two years ago, the two lifelong San Diego natives moved to a place they never thought they’d live.

“It was a drastic change,” Vanpoucke said.

Earlier this year was when Vida was told she was a type 2 diabetic and five months ago physicians found a pea-sized cancerous spot on her liver. They told her to return three months later for another cancer checkup and this time, it had grown to the size of a quarter.

There is hope and there is a plan. The Marine and his bride would have it no other way.

Beginning Oct. 6, Vida will enter an intense two-week testing program at the Mayo Clinic which will essentially ensure that she moves to the top of the liver transplant list. Vanpoucke has been told that the latest they could expect the liver transplant would be March 2011. The earliest would be at the beginning of the year.

“We’re not going to conquer it all when the transplant happens,” Vanpoucke says. “But at least we’ll be halfway through the battle.”

Seeing some of the finances whittle away, Vanpoucke now works part-time at a local Home Depot and works late Monday-Friday evening so he can still have each day to spend with his wife and take her to her numerous appointments.

Earlier this year was when Vanpoucke got the golf bug again. He has played golf since he was 4-years-old and was once a teaching professional who played to a scratch handicap, but time off to care for his wife had him rusty. He’s far from a scratch golfer now but made a deal with Lori that he’ll take one day a week to practice and play golf. So he joined the Twin Cities Amateur Tour this summer and qualified for the National Championship this week in Florida.

Lori Vida is in San Diego visiting with her father and her oldest brother this week, which pleases Vanpoucke knowing that his “princess” is being cared for. At first he was happy that she didn’t make the trip with him to Florida, but now, he’s a tad sad because she’s all he thinks about.

“I’m a blessed to be able to take care of a beautiful woman, but when I get out to the golf course it’s my passion and it’s where I can be who I am,” Vanpoucke said. “Golf brings me great balance in my life.”

Great balance in a life that has been quite a rollercoaster the past six years.