Meet the man who gave Compton life

8/6/2014 - Golf Erik Compton

The grieving parents were going through their son's papers on his desk when they found it, a virtual letter from the grave. Isaac Klosterman had just died after his motorcycle was struck on a Florida highway by a hit-and-run driver in a Dodge pickup, and suddenly there was his life's plan in the hands of his mother and father, Lillian and Jeff, who only wished their oldest of five children had a chance to honor his own code.

They had found Isaac's personal mission statement, and they believe he authored it shortly before his death on May 18, 2008. The Klostermans of Dayton, Ohio, treasure it as much today as they treasure the sweetest memory of their son. They find it incredible that a 26-year-old would sit down and write the following words:

My chief aim in life is to do my very best in every endeavor I choose to undertake. I hold myself responsible to do more than is required in everything I do. I will become an honest, caring, fun, responsible, loving, considerate, active, healthy, successful, and mentally tough person.

I hereby make the decision to be honest in all my dealings with other people. I will also be honest with myself. I will care for others as I would want them to care for me. I will think before speaking as to remain considerate of other people's feelings. I will be a fun person to be around. People will seek me out for company because of my light-hearted and fun personality.

I will love. To do that, or any of the other characteristics I set here, I must first love myself. I will embrace myself with open arms and let God take care of what I cannot do by myself. I will lead an active and healthy lifestyle so that I may remain in good health. This good health will allow me to live to over 100 years in age. I will be successful in all business and personal endeavors because I will be passionate and tenacious. I will give service to others to help improve their lives. Through service I will be reminded of all I have to be thankful for.

Isaac Klosterman, former club volleyball player at the University of Dayton, is the story behind the best story in golf. His heart now beats for Erik Compton, the two-time heart transplant recipient who finished tied for second at the U.S. Open and who is about to play in his third major of the season, the PGA Championship, with a spot in next spring's Masters already tucked inside his bag.

The Klostermans will be watching Compton at Valhalla, just as they watched him contend at the U.S. Open in June, when the 34-year-old finished below par just to prove that heart No. 3 had defeated Pinehurst No. 2.

"Isaac was competitive, adventurous, did his best in everything and didn't waste a minute of his life," his mother said. "We're all thrilled Erik is the same kind of guy, and someone who is taking full advantage of the gift."

The ultimate gift.

"We don't consider it Isaac's heart now," Lillian Klosterman said. "It's Erik's heart. It's his. And we don't want him to feel any remorse that it came from our loss."

Before Isaac boarded his BMW touring motorcycle for the long trip from Ohio to Florida in spring 2008, Lillian hugged him for the longest time. "He'll be back!" Jeff told his wife, and Lillian still wonders whether she knew deep down this would be the last time she held her boy.

Isaac was a star multisport athlete at Chaminade-Julienne High School in Dayton, a lover of hiking, fishing and swing dancing, and an avid motorcyclist who traveled some 9,000 miles on a journey into New England, the Northwest Territories of Canada, into Southern California and back to his Ohio home. He was nobody's idea of a weekend warrior. He was smart enough to wear extensive safety gear from head to toe.

"I would much rather sweat than bleed," Isaac would always say.

As he started his trip back from Key West, Isaac called his brother Ethan late one night to ask for directions to a campground, and Ethan sent him toward the Lion Country Safari KOA in Loxahatchee. About a mile from the campground, Isaac's bike was rear-ended by a Dodge Ram pickup, propelling him onto the hood of the truck. Isaac was found near death about 200 feet from the point of impact.

Dayton police arrived at the Klostermans' home at 4 a.m. "What do you do when you find out someone you love is dying?" Ethan said. "We all gathered on the front porch, so shaken up, and had a big family hug. What more can you do other than hold onto the people you have and cry?"

At the hospital, even though his brother was on life support, Ethan noticed the condition of Isaac's body. He had no visible scrapes or bruises; his safety suit had protected him. But Isaac's helmet was no match for the violent force of the collision.

"His brain was just too damaged," Ethan said.

Lillian and Jeff said their goodbyes, and asked hospital officials to follow the instructions Isaac effectively gave them as a teenager picking up his driver's license. Lillian recalled standing to her son's right at the counter as he checked the box making him a future donor of his organs.

"I think if Isaac had to decide his own death," she said, "this is how he would've chosen to die -- on his motorcycle, after his vacation, dying without pain, and helping others live."

Isaac's skin and eyes were used to help many. Hospital officials asked whether it was OK to take Isaac's jaw, too, and Lillian told them to take everything they needed. One of Isaac's kidneys went to an 11-year-old boy, the other to a 15-year-old boy. His lungs went to a 65-year-old man. His liver went to a 57-year-old man.

His heart went to a 28-year-old golfer who thought he was a dead man himself seven months earlier.

Diagnosed at age 9 with viral cardiomyopathy, an inflammation of the heart that restricts its ability to pump blood, Erik Compton endured his first transplant surgery at 12, a gift from a young girl killed by a drunk driver. Compton was in his car in fall 2007 when that heart finally gave out, causing pain so intense that he called family members to tell them he was dying.

Somehow the golfer drove himself to a hospital before collapsing. Doctors saved him with a pacemaker and defibrillator, but that was a temporary fix. Isaac Klosterman's death was what really gave Erik Compton life.

Compton would write a letter of thanks to the anonymous family of his anonymous donor, describing himself as a golfer and unwittingly sending Lillian on a Google search for his identity. She felt guilty knowing something she wasn't supposed to know, at least until discovering that Compton's brother had done his own online detective work on Isaac.

Lillian friended Compton's mother on Facebook. The families agreed to meet after the 2009 Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. Compton made the cut at Jack Nicklaus' event, but the Klostermans stayed clear of the course; they didn't want to distract him from his work.

They met over a meal at a Panera Bread restaurant. "I felt a closeness to Erik," Lillian said, "as if he was one of my long-lost friends or relatives."

"It was surreal to actually see him," Jeff said. "It was great to shake Erik's hand and give him a hug and know there's someone who more than likely wouldn't be there without my son's heart. It's strange to say, but it almost felt like he was part of the family."

Compton says a day doesn't pass without him thinking about Isaac, and the Klostermans say they appreciate the fact that a professional athlete has put their son's spirit on a public stage. Jeff, a city employee, and Lillian, a retired residential secretary at the university, cheered for Compton from their living room seats as he climbed the leaderboard at Pinehurst.

They see a karmic connection in the fact that Compton qualified for the U.S. Open out of Columbus, their son's last place of residence. Isaac was working at a Home Depot, looking for the right career opportunity with his Dayton degree in management information systems, when everything was stolen from him in the dead of night.

The Klostermans remember him as a giver, a jokester, a young man of peace. As a high school freshman waiting at a bus stop, Isaac was surrounded by a circle of taunting kids before the smallest member of the group punched him in the face. The boys tried to hassle him into punching back, but the much bigger Isaac walked away, and earned a community award for doing so.

His siblings recall him as the best big brother in town. Ethan and Sylvia spoke of being pinned to the ground while Isaac tickled them into a frenzy. Shelly said that nobody has ever made her laugh like Isaac did, and that he was forever diligent in explaining safety measures to her when she rode with him on his old Yamaha bike. Isaac had another rule of the road that Shelly wasn't allowed to break.

"Any kids we pass," he told her, "you have to smile and wave."

The oldest sister, Shannon, spoke of Isaac's success in high school sports ("The girls fawned over him," she said), and of her belief that Compton was absolutely the right guy to receive her brother's heart.

"I don't think you could've found a better match in terms of adventurous spirit, athleticism, and drive," Shannon said. "I think it's been a seamless transition from one body to another."

Truth is, the Klostermans would much rather talk about the man who keeps Isaac's memory alive rather than the one who left him for dead on the side of State Road 80 six years ago. Though no arrest was ever made in the hit-and-run case, the Klostermans believe they know the identity of the driver involved.

Jeff and Lillian said that they wished the man would finally accept responsibility for his actions. "But when you hold a grudge and hold that bitterness in your heart," Jeff said, "it eats away at you and makes it worse."

So they've forgiven someone who hasn't asked for it or earned it, and they've found comfort in a game the family never played. Jeff has hit a few buckets of range balls in his day, and that's about it.

But they follow Compton online via the PGA Tour's Shot Tracker, and they say Isaac would have been so proud of Erik's play, his fearlessness, and his work supporting the Donate Life America program. On Compton's Facebook page Monday, Lillian wrote, "You can win, Erik! Just imagine! When you win, we all celebrate!!!"

On Thursday afternoon at Valhalla, Compton will win just by showing up on the first tee. He will stand as a monument to the memory of the late, great Isaac Klosterman, whose heart keeps beating through the best story in golf.