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Heart of the Matter: Becky Lucidi Bounces Back

Article courtesy of Duramed FUTURES Tour

Those who know BECKY LUCIDI's personality should have known something was wrong when the jokes stopped and the one-line zingers didn't leap off her lips anymore.

Those who recognize that sparkle in her mischievous eyes should have sensed that something had changed when the Californian sometimes disappeared for weeks at a time or made in-and-out tournament appearances without her usual fire that always came to play.

Only a few knew about Lucidi's secret - the one that was with her when she won the 2002 U.S. Women's Amateur Championship and when she was a member of an NCAA Championship team. That secret was even with her when she was a contestant on the Golf Channel's "Big Break" series, following her to the Duramed FUTURES Tour and on to the LPGA.

It was the secret that could have killed her and one that was nearly unfathomable for a healthy, vibrant woman in her 20s with a golf game that was destined for stardom and a personality that was already there.

Last week at the Duramed FUTURES Tour's tournament in Lafayette, La., Lucidi was ready to talk. And as the tears welled up in her eyes, she displayed the pinkish, still-tender scar on her chest that has already begun changing her life. That surgical signature was the culmination of so many years of playing tough and stubbornly ignoring what her body was trying to tell her.

"I've had heart arrhythmia since I was a kid and I passed out a lot," said Lucidi, 28, a fifth-year professional who now makes her home in Phoenix. "My mom always just said, 'She's playing hard with the boys.'"

But those blackouts were more than getting the wind knocked out of her in kids' games. Lucidi's heart rate would plunge and then race. Her hands would shake and she would pass out. Her symptoms got worse as she got older and by 2005, she was having full seizures. During one episode, an ambulance rushed her to the hospital where multiple tests were run. But the diagnosis was always the same. Doctors couldn't find anything wrong with her.

At that time, Lucidi's family operated horse stables in Poway, Calif., and one of their boarders was the head nurse for Dr. Daniel Blanchard, a top cardiologist at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). She booked an appointment for the golfer to see the heart specialist.

The physician also ran a series of tests on her, including a "tilt table test," which is used to evaluate the cause of unexplained fainting. Seven seconds into the test, Lucidi could feel an episode coming on.

"The next thing I knew, I had the heads of six doctors leaning over me," she said. "They didn't tell me then, but my heart stopped for 11 seconds."

Doctors attempted to treat Lucidi with medication and restricted her physical activity. She wanted to work out, but the exertion would cause more fainting episodes and doctors warned against it.

"I gained weight and lost confidence and strength," she said. "But you can only fall so many times before you realize it's not worth it."

A former collegiate player at the University of Southern California, Lucidi moved on to the Duramed FUTURES Tour, where she played 15 events in both 2005 and 2006 - carding a career-best runner-up finish in 2005 in McAllen, Texas. In 2006, she was named as a contestant on the Golf Channel's "Big Break V: Hawaii" show - an always-on-camera experience that kept her on edge for two weeks of filming.

"I was terrified that I was going to go down when the cameras were rolling," she said. "I don't know how I didn't pass out."

In autumn of 2007, she earned full status at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament. It was the moment she had dreamed about for all of her golf career. But that same autumn, Dr. Blanchard sat her down in his office and offered his final verdict on her mysterious health condition: "We need to put in a pacemaker."

His words hit her like a line-drive errant tee shot. Lucidi walked out of his office that day, past a waiting room full of cardiac-care octogenarians, with his recommendation still ringing in her ears.

"I played in college at one of the top teams, I had a great amateur career and I was ready for the next step," said Lucidi. "Then, to finally get there and someone tells you that you need to wait, I just wasn't ready for that."

So rather than having the surgery and taking three months off from golf to recover, Lucidi began preparing for her first season on the LPGA Tour. She had that coveted card in her hand for 2008 and nothing was going to stop her - even though she was now passing out twice a week and never knew when those moments would come.

"It wasn't safe and it wasn't smart for me to drive," she said. "But all I knew was I didn't want to lose my LPGA card."

Lucidi's fiancée, Adam McDaid, a PGA club professional with his own solid career as a golf instructor in Chicago and Florida, knew what having LPGA membership meant to her. He knew she wanted to play, but he also knew how bad her condition had become and he feared for her to be out on tour alone. So McDaid quit his job and went out on the road with Lucidi to work as her caddie.

Lucidi played in 20 LPGA tournaments in 2008, finishing tied for 13th at the Ginn Open and 18th at the Longs Drugs Challenge. But there were ups and downs and 13 missed cuts that season. During a practice round at the Kapalua LPGA Classic in October, she passed out on the golf course.

"Whenever she passed out, it scared me, but she would pretend like it was no big deal," said McDaid. "I understood that it was her first year as an exempt LPGA Tour member and she had worked hard to get there. I probably would have done the same thing, but this was starting to get serious. She wasn't sleeping at night and the condition was just wearing her down. I finally told her that we needed to get something done."

So after she missed the cut at the Kapalua LPGA Classic, Lucidi made a decision to have the surgery. She had thousands of questions. How would it affect her golf swing? Would she feel it inside her chest? Would she still be able to play? And most of all, would it work? Would the fainting stop?

On the night before her surgery, she was asked to sign some medical papers. Lucidi and McDaid stared at the legal forms and the reality of the whole matter was right there in front of them in black and white.

"I was scared," said Lucidi. "I knew they were going to open me up and put something in my heart. And then I was being asked to sign a paper saying that I knew there was a chance that I could die. I signed it. And I hoped that God would take care of me."

"It was something tough for both of us to hear," added McDaid. "But I tried to tell her that the surgery was something she had to do."

Surgeons at UCSD's Pearlman Ambulatory Center spent about 2½ hours installing a Medtronic ADAPTA pacemaker -- slightly smaller than the length of a business card -- into Lucidi's chest. Because the golfer's dual atrial valves were weaker than her ventricular valves, not enough blood pumped out to reach her brain, which resulted in the fainting spells. The pacemaker's job is designed to detect those drops in heart rate and to regulate the heart's beating rhythm.

In the first week after her pacemaker was installed, Lucidi was instructed to use a mobile heart monitor, which she holds over her pacemaker to collect data and transmit the readings back to her physicians over the telephone. In the first week, her pacemaker was forced to kick into action 256 times whenever her heart rate dropped below 60 beats per minute.

"That's when I knew I did the right thing," said Lucidi. "This condition ruled my life for the last three years and now when I look at the test results, I know I'm lucky to be here. It's been life-changing and this whole experience has put a lot of things into perspective for me."

Lucidi now has the green light to work out again and resume the normal life of a woman her age. She is bouncing back and forth between the LPGA (where she is playing this week) and the Duramed FUTURES Tour (where she played last week). She wags her finger and says, "Give me six months and you'll see a change." And she vows that now, "There are no excuses."

McDaid has returned to the club setting as the first assistant professional at Friar's Head in Riverhead, N.Y. He says Lucidi is back to being the sharp-witted jokester she was when they first met.

"She's happy, she has more energy and she's cracking jokes again," he said. "She wasn't like that for a little while, but now she's loving life. That's the Becky I know."

Topics: Player Feature

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