A Life-Saving Swing

When he received a gift certificate for six golf lessons in May of 1994, Howard Fields scratched his head and wondered what his friend could possibly have been thinking. As an avid racquetball, basketball, volleyball and tennis player, he stuffed the gift in a drawer and promptly forgot about it. Then in January 1995, Fields’ life changed radically when he received a kidney transplant and golf was the sport that took center stage.

Fields kidneys had failed years earlier, but with regular dialysis treatment, he was able to lead a semblance of a normal life. The machine did the work of his kidneys by cleaning his blood and preventing toxins from building up and he went ahead and continued to work as a CPA for JP Morgan. Fields kept his condition pretty quiet, but those closest to him knew he had kidney failure and was hoping for a transplant.

That January, Fields' colleague took a family vacation to his ski house in Utah and his 18-year-old son was tragically killed on a black diamond run. When the family was asked about organ donation, a light bulb went off. "You can have all the organs," said the boy's dad and Fields' friend, "If you ship one kidney to my buddy, Howard, in New York."

Out of someone else's deepest tragedy and darkest hour came Fields' salvation. And he was determined to take the best possible care of his donated kidney. He didn't want to risk doing anything that could damage this precious gift and so it didn't seem that contact sports made much sense any more. He dug the golf lesson gift certificate out from under a pile of socks and signed up. Fields took his first lesson just two months post-transplant and surprise — he was hooked!

Back in his basketball days, teeing off seemed like something old men did to pass the time. Fields soon learned otherwise. Playing golf is a difficult sport and hitting just a couple of good shots is really exciting. Just as his transplant transformed his body, golf recharged his spirit. It was a sport he could challenge himself to try even after major, life-altering surgery. Being outstanding was never the goal. Just being alive to play the game made him soar.

During the first couple of years, Fields had a 20+ handicap, but over the last couple of years, he has gotten down to a 15. He's even broken 90 a number of times and each time is still a big thrill. Although he hasn't exactly come away with any medals or trophies, golf has enabled Fields to be a player in the game of life.

Golf is also a way of giving back to the cause that's so dear to him and so he plays in the National Kidney Foundation Golf Classic Tournament every year to help support programs in early detection for kidney disease and organ donation awareness. Fields' local tournament is one of 40 events held each year in cities around the country. These events collectively raise over $3 million for the cause and the top three finishing teams get invited to the National Finals at Pebble Beach. He doesn't expect to make it there but that's okay. Winning has a new definition for him now. Fields also golfs once a year with his donor's dad, the guy who made his current life possible. It's their way of keeping the connection strong. Somehow, seeing Fields swing on the golf course affirms that he made the right decision and Fields is delighted to be doing his friend's son proud, 16 years after the life-saving choice was made. Click here to read Howard's inspirational story in Golf Digest magazine.