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On The Heart Beat

Golf With a Heart

Golf With a Heart
Published: 2020-08-07

Unless you find a bone marrow match for your 8-year-old son’s leukemia, his prospects are grim and your heart aches.

You’re nearly 5,000 miles from your Sao Paolo, Brazil home. Your marrow and his brother’s don’t match.  

To clear your head while a marrow search continues, you visit the parkland golfing grounds near the Duke University hospital and miracles ensue:

A random match is found and young Henrique Hannud begins weeks of isolated treatment where the potential of infection threatens his fragile immune system. The only infection-safe outdoor place you and he find for relief are the parkland golfing grounds of nearby Hillandale Golf Course.

Hillandale’s Director of Golf, former PGA Tour player Karl Kimball, takes a shine to Henrique. You and he become friends too. It’s 2008.  

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As you return with Henrique for semi-annual checkups, you and Karl eventually become business partners and miracle enablers. 

Over time, your partnership, Amerazil Golf, makes a long term commitment to operate the golf course and begins building heartwarming stories similar to Henrique’s’ with the development of the course’s H.E.A.R.T.S club.

It’s a fitting acronym for Hillandale Embracing A Really Tough Situation, and the club’s character is epitomized in the first paragraph of its mission:

The mission of the Hillandale Golf Course H.E.A.R.T.S. Club is to provide a no-cost nurturing golf environment for the children that are patients at the Duke Children’s Hospital Pediatric and Marrow Transplant unit. This program, and all its offerings, will be extended to the children’s immediate families and caregivers in order to ease the burden of their immediate journey by understanding the expense and emotional undertaking of fighting a deadly disease.

The renowned Duke children’s unit has completed over 3,000 marrow transplants. Without them, the children would lose their fight within a year. 

These children are battling diseases such as, but not limited to, all forms of Leukemia and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The success rate for a cure, once in the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant ward, is now at 75%. 

It’s no in-and-out program as its Medical Director and Chief Scientist Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg describes:

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“Our patients and their families come to us from all over the world for these transplants, 57 countries by recent count. It’s often a 6-month stressful ordeal, two of which are in hospital. The daily therapy can continue for another several months and these kids must be isolated from infection risks - no school, no movies, no Chucky Cheese, just open safe places.” 

“The incredible value Hillandale’s H.E.A.R.T.S. gives to us is immeasurable. The emotional investment they make every day, offering hope and distraction to kids and families who truly need it is really big,” she says. 

When families like Juliano Hannud’s come to Duke seeking the last resort bone marrow transplant treatment, they’re making a long time commitment. Some aren’t as able as the Hannuds who operate Emporium, a chain of upscale supermarkets in Sao Paulo.

While Duke’s programs grow, so does H.E.A.R.T S. as Hillandale, staff, players, and fans become engaged. They raise funds, lift spirits and hearts swell while children heal.

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Hillandale golfers have become accustomed to seeing the blazing red H.E.A.R.T.S. golf cart, donated by fan Keith Norwood’s company Armacell, as it tools around the grounds sporting patients and parents relieving themselves from the hospital monotony and offering a safe place and fresh air.

Some parents and even some patients actually play golf, many making lifelong enduring friendships during the six-month treatment, all courtesy of H.E.A.R.T.S.  

H.E.A.R.T.S even has supported families with car and hotel fees, and even in a few cases, mortgage and rent payments. It has purchased computers for patients, staged Easter Egg hunts, and cornhole tourneys.

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In sum, H.E.A.R.T.S brings new meaning to the golf term sweet spot and for Karl, Juliano, and Henrique it’s a special reward. As Karl grins, “a healthy Henrique, now an adult, whips my butt on the ping pong table.”

And the beat goes on.