Ben Golden Peterson overcomes heart transplant, cancer to cheer on Alabama greats at Regions TraditionTwo kids from Children's of Alabama get cool experience
May 09, 2019
By Stewart Moore, PGATOUR.COM
- May 09, 2019
Heart transplant patient goes inside the ropes at Regions Tradition
From the outside looking in, Ben Golden Peterson is like any other kid you might see at a golf tournament, catching an easy ride up and down the numerous hills at Greystone Golf & Country Club on his dad’s shoulders, watching golf’s legends on a day where SEC football is king.
Each year, the Regions Tradition hosts a veritable who’s who of coaches and celebrities tied to the godfather of college football – the Southeastern Conference. The likes of Nick Saban, Kirby Smart, Gus Malzahn and others play in the annual Wednesday pro-am, which draws media members and autograph seekers from all over the south.
For Ben, his day at the year’s first senior major meant the chance to represent his beloved Crimson Tide in golf’s version of the Iron Bowl, pitting former Alabama quarterbacks Jay Barker and John Parker Wilson against former Auburn quarterbacks Stan White and Brandon Cox, with three-time PGA TOUR winner (and devout Florida Gator) Chris DiMarco as the pro (and possible referee) in the group.
Two kids with ties to nearby Children’s of Alabama – the charitable beneficiary of the Regions Tradition – were selected to represent each side of the well-known rivalry, with Ben cheering on Alabama and Stefani Swindle pulling for the Tigers. The two of them were recognized on the first tee and cheered for by fans, players and celebrities.
The cheering brought out a bit of shyness from Ben, who at one point in life was the proverbial dragon slayer in defying the odds.
Four weeks after his birth, Ben was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and cannot pump blood effectively. Some babies with this condition can go for years without a heart transplant, but not Ben. Day by day, his condition worsened to the point where each hour of life was fragile until a donor could be found.
After 39 trying days, a heart was made available in California. Ben would be the first child to recover from a heart transplant in Children’s new Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children via the Joseph S. Bruno Pediatric Heart Center, but the difficult road was far from over.
It took six hours for the heart to arrive from the west coast before Ben was able to go under the knife with the hope of coming out better on the other side. Prayers and well wishes from family, friends, nurses and doctors carried his immense bravery throughout the procedure.
To describe the transplant process as lengthy and terrifying would be underselling a nightmare scenario for anyone who has been there, but Ben’s body accepted the heart and miraculously began beating. For nearly a year-and-a-half, he thrived as a young man with a new heart, a contagious smile and a wonderful outlook on life. Half of the battle with transplants is the surgery, but the other half is the recovery.
For Ben, that possible downside manifested itself in the form of intussusception and post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD). A parent’s worst nightmare – cancer.
“Oh my goodness, it was awful. He was doing so well and then all of a sudden, something wasn’t right,” said Ben’s father, Isaac. “We took him in, and you think he’s just going to get checked out and they say, ‘He’s got lymphoma.’”
To speak with Isaac and Ben’s mom, Laura, is to hear two parents bursting with pride over their son’s positive outlook and never-say-die attitude, literally.
He endured six rounds of chemotherapy and the family threw a head-shaving party in support of Ben, who had lost all of his hair from the radiation. Father, grandfather, you name it, they went bald to cheer on the family warrior.
After six intense rounds of chemotherapy, Ben was deemed to be in the clear. Healthy and functioning heart, no signs of cancer, beating all odds by the age of 3.
“The only thing I remember from all of it is that they cut me open,” Ben said on Wednesday as he pulled his shirt down in the front to reveal a vertical battle scar that will forever serve as a reminder of his start in life.
Amazingly, Ben’s annual checkups are few and far between, consisting of a heart biopsy once a year and two visits to the heart clinic.
In July, he will turn 7, and in October, the family will celebrate his seven-year transplant anniversary.
“I love the fact that he’s now old enough to be an advocate for other kids,” said Laura while walking down the par-4 ninth at Greystone. “No one would ever know his history just looking at him. If you see him outside playing baseball, he’s like any other kid.”
Ben loves baseball and like all other kids his age, is obsessed with Fortnite dances, opting for the popular “Orange Justice” when asked to break it down on a hillside slope Wednesday morning. As for golf, his time at the pro-am certainly captured his interest, but it’s the miniature version he loves the most.
“I like putt-putt golf. One time I was going against my daddy and my mom and my sister and my little brother, and I came in second place,” said Ben in an Alabama accent as distinct as the crimson and white colors he cheers for on Saturdays.
Isaac and Laura have called Ben a miracle, and they’re right. When asked about the best part of his day, Isaac – dripping with sweat after carrying a 6-year-old on his shoulders for eight holes – said, “The best part is just being out here with Ben and being able to enjoy it with him.”
From the outside looking in, Ben Golden Peterson is like any other kid you might see at a golf tournament – and that’s a good thing.