His heart is in the game

Jun. 18, 2014 @ 05:51 PM

It’s been four years since 19-year-old Duncan Hay received a stem cell transplant.
Since then, he’s graduated high school, finished his first year of college and has come back to a place that meant so much to him and his family during his recovery – Hillandale Golf Course.
Hay is one of the many young people affected by the H.E.A.R.T.S Club at Hillandale. When he was in the Duke Hospital and the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Program receiving treatment after treatment, having a place like Hillandale allowed him and his family an opportunity to escape – to leave the sterile hallways and remember what it was like to just be a kid again.
Hay’s father, Jerome, introduced him to golfing when Duncan was young. The H.E.A.R.T.S. Club gave the family a tool to help the healing process.
“It gave Duncan and me time to get out and do something together,” he said. “It was great to see him have the opportunity to do something he enjoyed.”
H.E.A.R.T.S. stands for, Hillandale Embracing a Really Tough Situation. The program was created to help assist families during their stay at Duke, and ease the transition of treatments.
“The H.E.A.R.T.S. program has done a lot for me, and I know it does a lot for other kids,” Duncan Hay said. “Even if they don’t play golf, they can come out and have a nice day outside.”
Hay is also the first H.E.A.R.T.S. program recipient to play in the tournament. In past years, parents of the children have participated.
After being cooped up in the hospital, having the ability to be able to leave his room helped him recover, Duncan Hay said, and it helped his family bond during a hard time.
Jerome Hay said there weren’t a lot of opportunities for the family to get out and spend time with Duncan outside of the walls of the hospital. It also helped him regain strength as the treatments ended.
“I didn’t have that much energy, so every activity took a lot out of me,” Duncan Hay said. His father said they could see dramatic changes in his strength after the treatments when he was able to get out on the course.
During his treatments, Duncan Hay said his personality allowed him to stay positive through it all.
“I think that really helped myself and my family and my caretakers,” Duncan Hay said. “Just to see that I was still myself (during the treatment).”
He also reminds himself that even though he’s gone through the stem cell transplant, he’s still a normal young adult, and lucky to be where he is today. 
“Before all of this I was extremely lucky … to not have any major medical issues,” he said. “And then this happened. And I still consider myself lucky, because I saw the other kids that were in much worse condition than I was.”
Karl Kimball, president of H.E.A.R.T.S. Club and director of golf operations at the golf course, has seen what the program can do for the families.
“When you look into the eyes of the children, it impacts you,” he said. “But when you look into the eyes of the parents, you don’t forget it.” Since the program started, about 150 families have been assisted by the program. From rounds of golf to financial assistance, it’s given what it can to families.
During the 2014 H.E.A.R.T.S. Tournament, Kimball drives around a red, 6-seater golf cart, made especially for the program. On the hood of the cart are the signatures of those who have participated in the program, and messages to those who have lost their battles.
“I wish I could tell you they were all success stories,” Kimball said as he points to a name just above his head in the driver seats. The boy lost his battle in the fall, he said. Duncan Hay’s signature is near that boy’s signature.
This year’s tournament has been the largest they’ve seen. So big in fact, organizers had to borrow golf carts from other area clubs. Kimball says so far the program has raised about $35,000 for families. The Herald-Sun is the lead sponsor for the H.E.A.R.T.S fundraiser.
The tournament, is just one of the fundraising opportunities the club does, and for Kimball, it really is all about the families and the kids that go through the journey.
“I told Duncan, ‘You know, this day is really about you,’’” he said. Duncan Hay’s response?
“No, it’s about all the kids about to go into the hospital.”