The moment is frozen for me.
It was the day after local South Florida golfer Erik Compton, a multiple heart transplantee having overcome astronomical odds, had put on a stirring performance to pull off a runner-up finish in the U.S. Open last month. As I was standing in line at Subway on the Circle for a lunchtime sub, a young man approached me from behind.
“How are you, Mr. Daley, it’s great to see you,” came the polite young man’s greeting.
Problem was, it was one of those moments that we all have. You see somebody who greets you and you haven’t a clue in the world who it is and try and pretend you know them.
But I couldn’t fool this kid.
“It’s me, Michael Bain,” as he chuckled having “caught me trying to pretend.”
“It’s OK, not too many recognize when they see me, either,” he said.
You see, the last time we heard from Michael Bain, he was a ninth-grade golfing sensation at Miami Springs High School during the 2009-10 school year.
Near the end of the school year, mother and father Larry and Karen Bain moved north to Tallahassee to be closer to daughter Sara, then a student at Florida State and Mike was off to Munroe High School in nearby Quincy.
The reason we had a problem knowing who we were talking to on this day was because Bain weighed over 250 pounds the day he left for Tallahassee and didn’t look like he was anything close to 150 on this day.
That’s because a lot happened to Michael Bain between that day and the day in Subway. An awful lot.
Crohn’s Disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, had absolutely ravaged his body over the previous 18 months and a struggle by doctors to correctly diagnose it initially had only made matters worse.
“Everything’s good now but we weren’t sure for awhile,” remarked Bain.
I asked Mike if he would sit down with me one day and tell his story and that day came last Monday when he took time out from his summer job working the pro shop at the Miami Springs Country Club.
And what a doozy of a story this one is.
Here was a young man doing nothing more than enjoying his prime teen years, who by the time he had reached his senior year of high school, wound up huddled over a toilet sometimes 20, even 30 times a day throwing up. Some senior year.
It was actually his junior year when Bain started to go downhill.
“I started to feel some pain and inflammation in my left shoulder and couldn’t figure out what was happening,” said Bain. “A lot of golfers have shoulder issues, so it was no big deal at first.”
But then he started to get sick. Colds, flu, coughing, etc. And it was often. Then started the vomiting and weight loss, which became severe between Thanksgiving and Christmas, 2012.
“The day everything really hit the fan was New Year’s Day 2013,” said Bain. “I was sitting around watching football and I starting vomiting straight blood. My friends rushed my to the emergency room to get me stabilized. I think that day I weighed 220 pounds and by Feb. 1 I weighed 143. That’s when I started having other symptoms and things really got bad.”
Got worse because Bain would spend the next four frustrating months having to deal with trips to the ER on a daily basis and quizzical looks from Tallahassee-area doctors on what was going on.
“I never really officially got diagnosed with Crohn’s,” said Bain. “The doctors there thought I was making up other problems that were going on. I was on 30 different meds at the time. So they were thinking that the 30 different meds I was on was causing problems mentally. There were probably 40 visits to ER. My heart rate was 250 and blood pressure 198 over 110 every day. They hooked me up to EKG monitors, blood tests. Nobody knew.”
Finally, Bain was able to convince one of his doctors to give him a referral to head east with his parents to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, a “last stop saloon” of sorts for people who are stricken ill and nobody can figure out what’s wrong.
“You can’t go there without a referral, so after we got there we finally at least got everything diagnosed correctly,” said Bain. “They must have poked me, prodded me and moved me in and out of machines a hundred different ways.”
The surprise for Bain and his family came when doctors told them that not only did he have Crohn’s but had contracted Lyme disease as well.
“I must have gotten bitten by a tic at some point and had two different diseases in my body, which is why the meds weren’t working for me initially,” said Bain. “You never like finding this stuff out but when the other possibilities are cancer and diabetes, which I had been told was possible, I was at least grateful for that.”
And for a small period during that month of May, Bain got better. Well enough that he was able to travel to William Penn University in Iowa.
Having lost a slew of scholarship offers from colleges during his senior year because he was unable to participate in any sports, let alone golf, William Penn golf coach Steve Tucker flew him out for a tryout.
“I shot a great round that day, 1 over par and they offered me a scholarship right on the spot and I signed on the dotted line,” said Bain. “That was a great day.”
So here’s where we get the happy ending, right? Not even close.
Not more than a few weeks after his trip, Bain’s health went downhill quickly.
“When I went in for a July checkup and had a colonoscopy, they discovered the disease had gone from 13 inches of intestine to 26 inches,” said Bain. “The doctors didn’t clear me to go off to school. I had to tell the school five days before I was scheduled to leave.”
There is always a “rock bottom” in any of these stories and for Michael Bain that was rock bottom.
Not only was he not going off to school but the battle with both diseases would only get progressively worse.
“Crohn’s weakens your immune system, so it was really complicated,” said Bain. “The doctor said I was the most complicated case he’d seen because I had an infection in my bloodstream forever and if you lower your immune system by a certain amount it can activate again, so it’s just this very tight rope to walk between the two diseases. Some meds don’t work for one that work for the other, and vice versa. It got worse before it got better.”
By last November, Bain was flown back to South Florida from Tallahassee where he entered the Cleveland Clinic in Weston. No success there led him to Baptist Hospital a few months later.
“The hard-core meds for Crohn’s lowered my immune system to where I got even sicker with infections. When I went down to Baptist, they finally got me settled. About the sixth time with the infection, they started talking about having to find a donor to be able to have a transplant to reset my immune system.
“After I had that done I could have surgery, which I hadn’t been able to have for two years because my disease had been so progressive that they couldn’t catch an optimal side to cut it out. They had to shrink it down first. All during March they kept pouring meds in me and got it down to the right size, cleared the infection up for the first time in a year and said, ‘We’re going to go cut it out.’ ”
And so, on Monday morning, April 6, Michael Bain’s life finally turned the corner for the better.
“They went in and cut out 14 inches of my intestine, 2 inches of my colon, my appendix and two lymph nodes,” said Bain. “That may not sound like too much fun but for me it was one of the greatest days of my life. That day changed my life to where I could finally start seeing the other side of things.”
Bain said he went from vomiting 30 times a day, going to the bathroom 30 times a day, to where he hasn’t thrown up since surgery and gained 35 pounds back.
Then came the next-greatest day of his life. Thanks to a heartfelt classy move by Tucker and William Penn athletic director Wade Steinlage, Bain’s golf scholarship was still waiting for him. They had put in a medical leave of absence to the NCAA for Bain. Now all both the school and Michael Bain needed was the medical green light from doctors.
“A few weeks ago I went back to see the very same doctor in the very same office that had delivered that awful news to me a year before,” said Bain. “He stuck out his hand to shake hands with me and said, ‘Good luck at school.’ I get emotional just thinking about that moment.”
Bain was then asked about his parents and his overall support system through the entire ordeal.
“It was hard, but what a support system I had between my mom and dad, family, friends, medical staff,” said Bain, his voice cracking with emotion. “No way I come out of this without them.”
Predictably, when one goes through such a medical ordeal, it tends to change one’s outlook and perspective on life and for Michael Bain, that certainly is the case. It wasn’t much of a secret back in his days playing as a freshman at Springs that he had some hot-tempered outbursts on the course and his “engine would run a little hot.” Bain now chuckles looking back.
“No doubt this changes your perspective on life,” said Bain. “Yeah, all of a sudden there’s no such thing as a big 10-foot putt for birdie. It’s like, ‘So what.’ If it goes in, great, if it doesn’t, go tee it up on the next hole. You feel so silly looking back thinking how mad you used to get on the course.”
The immediate future?
Bain is excited. On Aug. 7, he’ll board a flight and head for Oscaloosa, Iowa, where he hopes to show Tucker and Steinlage they did the right thing in saving that scholarship for him.
But on the golf course, Bain is less interested in going the route of Compton and one day playing big-time golf than he is about the teaching end of things.
He proved it by, with the help of MS Director of Golf Operations Paul O’Dell a few months ago, went along with Jeff Vance and Tom Ragan to get certified to teach the now nationally recognized First Tee program, a youth development organization that impacts the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.
Miami Springs Country Club will serve as a host site for the First Tee program next summer and all three — Bain, Vance and Ragan — will be there as the instructors.
“For a while I had decided I wanted to become a doctor to help fight so many of these terrible diseases,” said Bain. “But I think I’ve really found my calling and that is to not only teach kids about golf, but life as well.”
He also is hopeful that a round of golf with Erik Compton might be in the works somewhere soon down the road.
“We have the same trainer (Emil Garcia) and Emil has told me that he’s going to try and set it up soon,” said Bain. “That would be so cool because now someone like me can really appreciate everything he had to go through to get where he is today. Whether it’s golf, any other sport or any other aspect in life, he’s now an inspiration to any kid going through physical difficulties that you can overcome anything if you stay determined.”
Guess what, Michael Bain, you may have just made that Erik Compton list as well.