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Heart transplant recipient gains inspiration from Compton

From left: Logan Gibbs, Erik Compton and Colby Salerno

June 24, 2013

By Sasha Dusbabek, Special to Together.PGATOUR.com

HARTFORD, Conn.- It has been a little over a year since 25-year-old Colby Salerno received his long-awaited heart transplant. After 166 days in Hartford Hospital, and a year of waiting to see if his body would reject the new heart, Salerno says that he’s feeling “excellent.”

Salerno is currently back home in Cheshire, Conn., after finishing one semester at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, where he is enrolled in a one-year, post-graduate, pre-medicine program with plans to go on to medical school.

Since the age of 14, two years after he was diagnosed with a rare heart disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, it has been a goal of Salerno to study cardiology and become a doctor. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a disease in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick, making it harder for the heart to pump blood.

After doctors discovered his condition at age 12, Salerno wasn’t allowed to participate in any competitive sports except for golf because it wasn’t as taxing on his heart. Although he took some time off from the sport, Salerno has just started playing again.

“I play [golf] all the time. I love being outside. Since I was cooped up in a hospital for six months, being outside feels amazing,” said Salerno from a skybox overlooking the 18th hole at the Travelers Championship.

Following his diagnosis, Salerno was able to temporarily control his condition with a mixture of drugs. However, his condition became progressively worse. It wasn’t until he was at St Michael's College in Vermont that he learned that he would need a new heart.

Nevertheless, what made Salerno’s situation so popular was the blog he kept during his time in the hospital. In “Tales from the 10th Floor,” he wrote about what it was like living day after day in the hospital’s 10th-floor Intensive Care Unit (which he called The Penthouse) while waiting for a heart transplant. The blog gained regional fame and even won the Hartford Courant’s Websters award for the best blog in Connecticut.

“I started my blog as a way to let friends and family on the outside world know what I was doing, but when I realized that so many strangers were reading it I realized that it was a great platform for me to tell people how important organ donation was and how organ donation saved my life and got me where I am today,” said Salerno.

Although he currently does not keep up with his blog as much as he used to, Salerno is happy that his blog was able to grow beyond his expectations.

The time he has spent at the Travelers Championship this week is particularly special for Salerno as he had a chance to meet a prominent hero in the lives of heart transplant recipients in PGA TOUR player Erik Compton.

Being a two-time heart recipient, Compton can certainly relate to Salerno. He received his first heart at age 12 and his second at 28, following a heart attack five years ago. Since receiving his second heart, Compton has earned fully exempt status on the PGA TOUR the last two seasons.  Compton has over 70 starts on the PGA TOUR, but recorded his first career top-10 finish earlier this season at the Honda Classic (T4).

“Meeting Compton was excellent. He was so down to earth and is a total inspiration to anyone who has ever gotten a heart transplant,” said Salerno.

Salerno explains that when he and Compton started talking, “it felt like he was just talking to a friend. We didn’t discuss golf or being a professional athlete, but instead, we talked about medications and surgical procedures, stuff like that.”

Another link that Salerno and Compton share is support for Donate Life America, a non-profit alliance of national organizations and state teams across the United States committed to increasing organ, eye and tissue donation. Salerno’s mother Kelly is a passionate advocate for Donate Life and also serves on the board of directors for Donate Life Connecticut. Last year, Donate Life America teamed up with Compton to raise organ donation awareness.

Compton serves as inspiration not only to aspiring golfers, but to transplant recipients across the nation. “He is playing a sport that takes so much time and effort and he’s able to balance that with medications, doctor’s visits, and surgical procedures. And being that he’s gone through [the heart transplant process] twice and for him to be playing at this level is an unbelievable story,” said Salerno.

On July 15, Salerno and his family will host the third annual “Have a Heart for Salerno” golf tournament in which they will raise money for his medical bills. However, this is the final year that the money help support Salerno’s medical bills. After this year, the family hopes to raise money for other young kids that are going through similar situations.

Compton and Salerno are living proof that anything is possible.

If you would like to support Salerno’s golf tournament, please contact Prospect Golf at (203) 758-4121 or write to Prospect Golf, PO Box 7153, Prospect, CT 06712.

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