Bob Sweeney took some practice swings with his driver in the front yard of his Rocky River townhouse earlier this week, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but the last time he swung it in 2006 he wound up in a coma for three days and in Fairview Hospital for a month.
It was on Aug. 17, 2006, that Sweeney, 81, teed off on the first hole at Big Met golf course in Fairview Park and collapsed of cardiac arrest.
Mike Raby, head pro at Big Met, glanced out the window of the pro shop.
“I saw a guy laying on the first tee. I thought it was a joke,” said Raby. “I thought someone had hit a bad drive and sort of fell down. Pretending. I thought they were kidding around. After a second or two, you noticed no one laughing. Everyone looked real serious.”
Except for the bad luck of going into cardiac arrest, the stars were aligned for Sweeney. The starter had paired the 80-year-old Sweeney and his wife, Kathleen, with two young golfers whom they didn’t know. They were likable fellows and luckily, one of them was Mark Hedegore, who knew CPR and immediately dropped down and went to work on Sweeney.
Furthermore, Sweeney was stricken on the first tee, only a few steps from the pro shop, and not deep in the woods half a mile away.
The emergency plan ran smoothly. The 911 call was made and also a call to the Metropark Rangers and out came Raby and pro shop manager Lloyd Smith at full gallop with a portable defibrillator. The seven Metropark golf courses had acquired defibrillators only two weeks earlier and the employees had just been trained, another stroke of good fortune. Sweeney was their first customer.
“I was scared,” said Raby. “It did not look good to me. I was afraid we had lost a golfer. But when the time came we remembered how to do it. We did just enough till the cavalry came over the hill with the paramedics and the Rangers to take charge.”
Raby estimates that between him and the paramedics, Sweeney’s heart was shocked five times.
“Give Mr. Sweeney some credit,” said Lloyd Smith, the pro shop manager. “He’s a tough guy.”
That’s a given. As a 19-year-old, Sweeney fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He battled the Germans for three straight months and when he was done he marched 150 prisoners at the point of a gun to an American first aid station.
He is, however, an octogenarian now and it took him a little longer to recover. He played one round of golf in April, but he wasn’t ready. He developed an infection and wound up on his back for a month. He is just getting his legs back. In the meantime, he celebrated his 81st birthday.
Most people don’t realize that golf is a dangerous game. Lightning is the least of the dangers.
“From what I’ve seen of the statistics, one of the places people are more likely to have heart attacks is on the golf course,” said Raby, “mostly because there is a reasonable percentage of golfers who are older.”
For that reason, Raby advocates that every golf course, public and private, be equipped with defibrillators, as the Metroparks have done.
“More and more of them already have done that,” he said. “You also see them in restaurants, in public buildings and schools. The best customer service you can have is saving someone’s life.”
Dan Coughlin is a columnist for The Chronicle-Telegram and sportscaster for Channel 8.