Son's illness presented perspective for Jacobson
September 02, 2015
By Craig Dolch
- Freddie Jacobson's son Max recently underwent open-heart surgery and is doing well. (Courtesy of Jacobson family)
Editor's note: This article is reprinted courtesy of TCPalm.com. For more from Treasure Coast Newspapers, click here.
Professional golfers face hundreds of decisions throughout each round.
Do they hit a driver or iron? Go for the par-5 in two or lay up? Putt from off the green or chip?
But nothing Freddie Jacobson did during his 20-plus years of playing professionally — the last 13 on the PGA Tour — could prepare him for a decision he and wife Erika had to make after their youngest child, 7-year-old Max, was diagnosed with a heart defect earlier this year.
To fix the defect known as an “anomalous origin of the right coronary artery,” which was causing Max chest pains when he overexerted himself in physical activity, doctors recommended open-heart surgery. Soon.
“We were thinking, ‘Should we really do this? He’s with us right now. Should we have our son undergo this surgery?’” said Jacobson, a Hobe Sound resident. “But everybody we talked to — doctors, specialists, other people in the medical field — told us that we should go through with the surgery. We stayed true to our decision.”
Max underwent the operation Aug. 3 by renowned pediatric heart surgeon Pedro del Nido at Boston Children’s Hospital. The process took about five hours, but it must have seemed like five days for the Jacobsons.
When Max came out from under the anesthesia, the doctors asked him his name.
“Max,” he said.
Then he had a question for the doctors.
“Is my heart fixed now?” Max asked.
“We told him, ‘Yes, it is, buddy,’ ” Jacobson said.
Four weeks later, Max is back with his family at their home in the Medalist Club, itching to join his dad on the golf course again.
“He’s so keen on golf, he’s already started putting,” Jacobson said, smiling. “He’s like, ‘When can I take a full swing?’”
Not for a little while, Max.
Doctors have estimated it will take Max another four to six weeks to recover fully from the surgery. Max attended a half-day of school this week for the first time since mid-May as he regains his strength.
Jacobson, who won the 2011 Traveler’s Championship and has earned more than $16 million on the PGA Tour, obviously put his own golf game on hold. The Swede hasn’t played since the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial in late May, choosing to deal with his family’s delicate situation privately. At the time, Jacobson was 128th on the FedExCup points list. He ended the season 167th in FedExCup points — not that it matters.
“Obviously, things like where I am on the FedExCup points lists goes to the sideline when something like this happens,” Jacobson said. “I had to be there for Max and our family.”
Fortunately for Jacobson, the PGA Tour will grant him a “hardship waiver” that likely will give him about a dozen tournaments to try to move inside the top 125 and keep his full-exempt status. Jacobson has been sidelined by two previous surgeries, but he never needed to ask for a medical hardship because he eventually stayed exempt on his own.
“There’s no guarantees in a sporting world the Tour would do something like this,” Jacobson said of the hardship waiver. “We have to perform every year to keep our job. At important times, this gives us a chance to be with our family.
“The Tour has been very supportive. They constantly called to check on Max and see if there were any other connections we needed to make. When something like this happens, the Tour becomes a big family and it’s been phenomenal to see.”
Jacobson also can thank legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus and wife Barbara for the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital satellite offices in Palm Beach Gardens where Max has been treated. Dr. David Drossner, a pediatric cardiologist at the Nicklaus Children’s satellite office, helped the Jacobsons through the maze of medical issues.
Jacobson said it was difficult to realize Max was having heart issues because he also has asthma. But Erika sensed something greater was wrong when Max would hunch his shoulders over because of the chest pain after running.
“This operation is pretty rare, but we’re doing more of them. It’s tough to diagnose them because a lot of times there are no symptoms,” said Dr. Eric Ceithaml, the Chief of Pediatric Cardiovascular Surgery at the University of Florida, as well as Wolfson Children’s Hospital, both in Jacksonville.
Ceithaml, as it turned out, performed a similar surgery this week. He has never treated Max Jacobson.
“He should go on to have a normal life span and he will be able to resume most athletic activities once he’s fully recovered from the surgery,” Ceithaml said.
The only golf Jacobson has been around lately is watching the majors with Max, whose favorite golfers (besides his dad) are Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson.
“Max was really happy Jason won the PGA because he had been so close to winning a major,’’ Jacobson said.
Jacobson plans on returning to the PGA Tour when the 2015-2016 season starts Oct. 15 with the Fry’s.com Open in Napa, Calif. But his schedule depends on Max’s recovery.
“I saw my coach for the first time last week and we’ll see where the golf swing is,” Jacobson said. “But I know it’s going to be really tough to leave home this time.”
But those constant decisions he’ll have to make on the golf course? Not so tough now after what Jacobson’s family has been through.
Craig Dolch is a Treasure Coast Newspapers correspondent with more than 30 years of golf writing experience.