Thursday, September 25, 2003

Getting on course a championship effort

Heart transplant doesn't stop Hutzel

By John Schutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Reading senior Dan Hutzel received a heart transplant while in eighth grade.
(Special to the Enquirer)
Reading's Dan Hutzel is not your typical high school senior.

Today, as Hutzel tees off in the Division II high school golf sectional at Glenview Golf Course, the 17-year-old heart transplant patient knows he's lucky to be alive.

In Division II, the top four teams and four individuals not on a qualifying team will advance to district. Division III, which has a sectional today at Pleasant Hills Golf Course in Middletown, allows the top six teams and top six individuals to advance.

Hutzel may not make the cut, but it doesn't matter much to him.

Hutzel was diagnosed at four months of age with cardio-myopathy, a genetic heart disease that causes the muscle to lose function over time.

Hutzel has relatives who also have the disease. His aunt, Becky Getner, died in 1979 because of the condition, but his uncle, Michael Getner, and cousin, Megan Steel, outgrew it.

"Dan has been on medication since being diagnosed," said Barb Hutzel, Dan's mother. "We were hoping he would outgrow it."

As he grew up, Hutzel was active in basketball, baseball, swimming, wrestling and football. He was introduced to golf at age six when he received his first set of clubs from Libby Gunning, his grandmother and the winner of the 1997 Cincinnati Senior Women's low-net tournament.

But when Hutzel was in the sixth grade, his cardiologist recommended he give up football. By the time he was in eighth grade, Hutzel seemed to tire easily.

"In February 2000 he really started to wear down," Barb said. "On April 7 of his eighth-grade year, he was put in the hospital. He was immediately put on the heart transplant list. One week later, a heart was donated."

After the transplant, Hutzel received an outpouring of support from his family, friends and school. His two closest friends, Reading senior basketball players Nick Berter and Jacob Apking, were at his side as he recovered from the surgery, and he received visits from classmates and teachers. To this day, Hutzel gets choked up thinking about everyone who was there for him.

He came through the surgery, but not without setbacks.

His freshman year, five months after the transplant, he tried to return to golf. Though he made the varsity team, he was unable to finish his first match.

"I had to quit because of back spasms. The doctors put me on steroids. Because of the drugs, I fractured seven vertebrae," Hutzel said.

He was in enough pain to be restricted to a wheelchair.

"From the operation to the back pains, Dan never complained once," Barb said. .

Now back playing golf, Hutzel wants to pave the way for future transplant patients but doesn't want to be known for being one himself.

"I just want to be one of the guys," Hutzel said.

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