Compton serving higher purpose with new foundation

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In the months after his first heart transplant as a child, Erik Compton’s face and body bloated disturbingly.

The severe reaction to the operation and the heart medications made it difficult on a 12-year-old.

He looked so weird to other kids.

“I remember when we were out, kids would stare at him, laugh at him,” says Eli Compton, Erik’s mother. “It was really tough.”

When Erik was ready to go back to school after his first surgery, he walked up on a stage so he could explain to the entire student body why he looked the way he did. His parents and school officials thought it would help other students to know why he looked so oddly different. They also thought it would help spare Erik the pain of unrelenting curiosity.

“Today, Erik looks at pictures of himself from back then and cringes,” Eli said.

Erik’s story and experiences are a benefit to children and adults preparing for organ transplants, or recovering from them. His profile as a professional golfer elevates his message. He’s making the most of that with the formation of the new Erik Compton Foundation, an organization that will launch its mission in South Florida on March 9 with the Erik Compton Foundation Golf Classic at International Links Miami – Melreese.

“Erik’s very interested in helping medical research, organ donor education and especially in helping and encouraging kids,” Eli said. “Having gone through it all as a boy, he understands.”

Since he was 10 years old, back when he was waiting for a heart donor and his first transplant, Compton has been getting up in front of people to talk about the importance of organ donation. When he was sickly and needed a transplant, Eli would take him to seminars and meetings, where he would speak in front of doctors, other medical industry members and the public at large about the importance of organ donation.

“Erik’s used to being on stage, telling his story,” Eli said.

Compton’s inaugural Golf Classic, scheduled the day after the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trump Doral, benefits Erik’s foundation and the First Tee of Miami-Dade.

Jim Furyk, Pat Perez, Hall of Famer Chi Chi Rodriguez, former Miami Heat players Alonzo Mourning and Ray Allen and former New York Yankees pitcher Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez are among celebrity participants in the outing.

Compton, 35, has long been active with Donate Life and the Transplant Foundation of Miami, an organization Eli served for 23 years, leading it as executive director before retiring. Erik is going to play his Golf Classic alongside Anna King as an honoree. She’s a Houston-area teenager he met two years ago, when he was playing the Shell Houston Open. She was 13 then, waiting for a heart transplant, and close to the same age Compton was when he underwent the first of his two heart transplants. She’s recuperating from her first transplant six months ago and leads her own cause: “Humor Heals the Heart, the Anna King Project.”

“Erik sees that `Here’s another kid who was like me,’ and he thinks her story is so uplifting,” Eli said.

The Erik Compton Foundation is very much a family affair.

After sleeping on the floor at the foot of Erik’s bed following his first heart transplant, Eli has been on her own mission to help transplant patients and their families. After joining the Transplant Foundation of Miami, she was a force in helping build the Transplant House, rooms on the University of Miami campus for families of patients undergoing transplants.

While Eli and Erik’s father, Peter, have been involved in Erik’s emergence as a top golfer since his rise to the No. 1 junior in the game, they’ve been integrally involved in organ transplant causes long before that. They’ve been models of giving for their son to watch.

“Erik knows he was given an opportunity, and there’s a purpose in it, a higher purpose,” Eli said.

The Erik Compton Foundation is Erik’s vision of golf with that higher purpose. For more information about the Golf Classic or the Erik Compton Foundation, go to www.erikcompton.com or email erikcomptonfoundation@gmail.com.