Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Swinging a Gulbis Against Kidney Disease

I never learned to play golf. I think that's a shame now, because as my male friends and I grow grayer the golf course could become a common ground, a place where we all could wear incredibly gaudy clothing and boast about how virile and good looking we used to be.

Besides, they have those cool little motorized carts.

I tried to play a couple of times. Spent so much time slogging through the trees that I contracted poison ivy on both ankles. I felt like the leader of a rescue party for lost balls. I was the Bogeyman. The fairway was a rumor. And don't even talk to me about putting!

If I could play, though, this is definitely an event I'd throw my clubs in the trunk for. Especially since it's for such a great cause.

Next Monday, July 28, my friends at the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois (NKFI) are hosting the 10th annual edition of one of their most successful fundraisers, the Middle Market OpenGolf Tournament. It will be held at the Olympia Fields Country Club south of Chicago, home to the 2003 U.S. Open and future home of the 2015 U.S. Amateur Championship.
LPGA Tour Glamour Girl Natalie Gulbis (Getty Images)

Since the event began in 2005, the tournament has raised more than $3.5 million to benefit the NKFI's crusade for kidney disease prevention and awareness. As you've read here countless times, one out of every nine adults in America is living with some form of kidney disease – and most of them don't know it. The NKFI has been fighting the brave fight to correct that frightening statistic for a half century – in fact, this is the 50th anniversary of their official charter – and they are worthy of support.

Hoping to surpass the $4 million mark in total earnings with this summer's tournament, organizers are pulling out all the stops. Sure, there are trips for two to Pebble Beach and Las Vegas, including lessons at the Butch Harmon School of Golf, but lots of golf tournaments offer prizes.

Ah, but not every tournament offers a special guest like Natalie Gulbis. Or as we like to call her, "all the stops."

Gulbis, an LPGA veteran, is the consensus sex kitten of the women's tour. She was on the second season of Celebrity Apprentice, hosted a talk show on the Golf Channel, produced her own racy calendar and appeared in a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue wearing nothing but body paint.

On second thought, maybe I'll be attending this tournament with or without clubs.

Proceeds raised from the Middle Market Open will go toward the NKFI's essential kidney disease prevention and education programs like the KidneyMobile®, which conducts free kidney screenings across the state of Illinois. Left untreated, kidney disease can lead to kidney failure and, eventually, to dialysis or a transplant in order to survive.

Every year, kidney disease kills over 90,000 people – more than breast and prostate cancer combined.

Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP and BMO Harris Bank, supporters of the tournament for many years, are the 2014 co-event sponsors.

There's still time to get involved. For more information about the Middle Market Open Golf Tournament, visit or call (312) 321-1500


Saturday, July 5, 2014

It's Like a River

I took advantage of a rare and delightful opportunity this week. As a freelance writer I probably interview well over 100 people a year, but because the assignments come so fast and feverishly I almost never have the chance to meet face to face with the disembodied voices I talk to on the phone.

However, earlier this year I participated in a tremendous project called "30 Stories in 30 Days" through the Illinois-based organization Gift of Hope. Every day in April – national Donate Life Month – Gift of Hope hosts a blog spotlighting one person or family whose life has been forever changed through the miracle of organ donation.

I wrote a half-dozen of the blog entries, and while each story was moving and inspiring in its own right, one really resonated with me. I was assigned to interview a thriving liver transplant recipient from suburban Chicago named Brian Brandt, and we truly seemed to click.
Brian and his daughter, Bernadette. (Gift of Hope)

He was a retired advertising and marketing executive, an industry in which I spent a sliver of my career. He was upbeat, funny and personable, qualities that always make an interviewer's life easier. He knew exactly how blessed he was to be given a second chance at life, as do I. And during his salad days in the ad game, he left the business to spend nearly a decade teaching in the Chicago Public Schools system.

Wow. Hokey mokey. That's a pure act of courage as far as I'm concerned, and one I deeply admire! (You can read Brian's Gift of Hope profile right here.)

So as it happened, I was in Chicago on business this week and my conversation with Brian drifted back to mind. I emailed. He was available, and willing. We agreed to meet for breakfast near his home, in Wilmette, Ill.

What a treat for me to place an actual face with a name and phone call. Brian is a really interesting and passionate fellow, and our encounter went even better than I could have hoped – so much so that we agreed to get together again for dinner, this time with our spouses.

But I have a true fear of driving in Chicago's morning commute. It's like NASCAR, only with pedestrians. Since I never had been to Wilmette before and my GPS said it would take me a half hour from the Loop, I added another 30 minutes to my travel time and left the hotel an hour early.

I made it to our appointed breakfast spot with 15 minutes to spare (after getting lost twice!), and what a relaxing feeling that is. As I leisurely waited for Brian to arrive, I took a few moments to contemplate.

There was a period, when I was much younger, that I didn't value my own time, much less anyone else's. When I was arrogant and self-consumed, I would go so far as to schedule multiple appointments at the same time: I'd make one person extremely happy by being on time, apologize to the second and blow off the rest. Hey, I was worth the wait!

Now, in this phase of my life, my perspective has taken a complete 180. "Better an hour early than a minute late" is the code I live by. I don't mind waiting for others. There isn't an excuse I can think of that justifies wasting someone else's precious time.

I wonder whether my kidney transplant and the remarkable years I've been blessed to enjoy thereafter play any part in my revolutionary thinking. I suspect it does. We're all living on borrowed time, but that fact becomes infinitely more tangible when you've survived organ failure and been able to talk about it on the other side.

Brian knows. For every person who's received a successful transplant, there are so many others for whom the life-saving replacement part arrived too late, or not at all.

I'm old enough that the words of MacDonald Carey's soap-opera admonishment often ring in my brain: "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives." My birthday was in mid-June. I yawned and went to the bathroom and it's July already. Tempus is fugiting.

Time doesn't flow at this stage of life. It gushes. I refuse to get caught in the undertow. I plan to savor every nanosecond.