Ken Duke Offers Encouragement, Support to Fellow Scoliosis Sufferers
May 23, 2012
By By Doug Milne, Special to Together, Anything's Possible
FORT WORTH, Texas—On the PGA TOUR, players use irons to make a living. Ken Duke, however, has one special iron he uses to make a life.
For the longest time, no-one knew about it. It was something he was just not comfortable sharing. But, as he forged out his place in the world, that all changed. Silence was supplanted by support.
As a seventh-grader at Arkadelphia Junior High in Arkansas, like all the other boys, he had a lot on his mind: girls, sports, girls, friends and maybe a few girls. At that age, kids develop physically and entertain notions of invincibility. They are diagnosed with acne, not scoliosis.
“When we were in junior high, we periodically had physicals by the medics on campus,” Duke said. “They began to notice my back was a lot more curved than the other kids’.”
Indeed it was. It was growing so directionally askew, he was sent to a doctor for intensive follow-up. What resulted changed the direction of his life forever—literally.
Duke underwent massive, corrective surgery when surgeons attached a 16-inch metal rod to his spine to guide the straightening process.
“I was scared. I was only 15,” he recalled. “All I knew was that I was about to undergo a huge operation. But it comforted me to know this surgery would fix me, extend my life.” Without the procedure, Duke ran the high, life-threatening risk of a pressure building up on his heart and lungs.
The surgery was a complete success, as has been Duke.
“I am so, so thankful to be able to play on the PGA TOUR,” he said. “I’m just grateful to have the health to be able to play golf—period.”
In the years that ensued after the surgery, Duke found himself embarrassed, ashamed even, of his condition. Despite the urging of his family and close friends, Duke remained elusive. He had fought just half the battle. Physically, he was given a new lease on life, with a golf pedigree to support it. But mentally, he admits, he was still broken.
“I didn’t want to talk about it, and that wasn’t the right approach,” he admitted. “I learned I needed to share my story.” With the understanding that there are thousands of other kids out there who receive the same news he did every day, Duke has paved a path to reach more people through the PGA TOUR platform than by flushing 4-irons and sinking putts.
Viewed hardly as a perfunctory chore, but more of a calling, Duke is now proud of his story. But not as proud as he is of being able to tell it.
Earlier this week at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, Duke took time to visit with three kids and their families currently trudging down the same rocky road he once traveled.
The meeting was arranged by the Scoliosis Research Society and the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.
“I want to give back as much as I can,” he said. “When I was younger, I was quiet as a mouse about what I went through. When I met these kids, they were, too. I tried to get them to talk to me. I tried to assure them they have nothing to be ashamed of.”
After all, when a whole life is encased in the mind of a kid, growing up is hard enough.
“It’s just a privilege to be out here now doing this, talking about this,” he said. “Playing on the PGA TOUR is a dream come true, but things like this are so much more important. Being a part of organizations like the Scoliosis Research Society is what it’s all about to me.”
Duke lives today with that special iron, that 16-inch rod, still on his spine. Imperative in a way but irrelevant in so many others, there’s a much more celebrated jewel in us all he’s helping people find.
And that’s the gold in the heart.
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