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The sun pounded and Brennan felt sick, but he had a date to keep with Pádraig Harrington.
Two months earlier, the Irish golfer and the 9-year-old had talked at the Masters. Brennan said hello to his hero and asked if he planned to come to the 2011 FedEx St. Jude Classic.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the beneficiary of the Classic, had saved the young boy’s life, but Brennan’s condition was still touch and go. That day in April, he relied on a wheelchair. He was bald and skinny as a toothpick.
“I’ll be there,” Harrington told him.
Harrington took a moment to talk with Brennan’s family. They had known each other more than two years, ever since Brennan had become a cancer patient.
Harrington didn’t want to miss the Classic, he explained to the family. For one thing, he loved the host city of Memphis, Tennessee. For another, the tournament gave him a chance to become accustomed again to playing in the States, in advance of the U.S. Open. And now that Brennan was counting on him, he had another special reason to be there.
Secretly though, Harrington must have wondered if he’d ever see Brennan again. The little boy looked so sick. His battle against cancer had dragged on for so long.
For Brennan, the promise of seeing Harrington was a reason to keep fighting.
A long and winding course
On many occasions over the past three years, Brennan has been on the brink of death. His presence at the 2011 tournament owed much to his tenacious doctors at St. Jude. Brennan has undergone four bone marrow transplants – three of them provided by St. Jude. Most hospitals stop if the first transplant fails, but St. Jude never gave up on Brennan. In a place accustomed to medical miracles, Brennan still stands out.
In the darkest days of Brennan’s treatment, it was golf that kept him going. When he wasn’t too sick to do so, he played. Brennan had been a talented golfer from the time he could grip a club.
“I believe I can do something on the golf course, and I just do it,” Brennan has said.
A winning game
On June 8, 2011, Brennan attended the 2011 FedEx St. Jude Classic and spent time with his hero. It was the day of the Championship Pro-Am. That’s the day the St. Jude kids come to the course to serve as “Little Loopers” – honorary caddies at the 11th hole.
Brennan’s family picked a shady spot to enjoy the day.
Eventually, Harrington approached, spotted Brennan and waved. He walked up to the green and visited with the family. There were many St. Jude kids assembled. He said hello to all of them.
He joked with Brennan, and let the young man hit his club.
“There were some shenanigans,” said Brennan’s mom, Tara.
Harrington consulted with Brennan about what iron to use as Harrington took his shot. They walked together to the next hole. Harrington looked Brennan over. There had been changes since they saw each other last.
“You’re looking well,” said Harrington. “Strong.”
Brennan smiled at Harrington. It was a good day. Two months had passed, but conversation between the two flowed easily, as it always does for old friends.
The thrill of victory
In August 2011, Brennan was finally well enough to leave St. Jude and return with his family back home to Georgia, this time for good.
“It’s a dream come true,” Brennan said.
In many ways, the intervening months have been a happy time for his family. In April 2012, Brennan attended his very first slumber party. Also in April, he returned to school for the first time. His fellow students lined the halls to welcome him.
But there have been hard times too. Brennan has overcome painful complications and endured three significant hospital stays.
“Is it still a dream come true, Brennan?” his mother, Tara, asked him recently.
Had it all been worth it?
“Oh, it is,” Brennan said and began, quietly, to cry. He saw his mother’s face and wiped his tears away. Mostly, Brennan kept his emotions in check. It was unusual to see his emotions spill over.
“Don’t worry about me, Mommy,” he said. “These are tears of joy.”
His mother smiled.
“I’m so glad I never quit,” he added.
Now she was the one who was crying.