Women's tour caddy walks away her MS - The Explorer: Sports

Women's tour caddy walks away her MS

Drug, support and more help Heather Drew do what she loves

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Posted: Tuesday, April 27, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:12 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Many days of the year, Heather Drew carries a 40-pound golf bag for miles around a golf course.

She also carries the possibilities of normal living for 400,000 fellow multiple sclerosis patients and their families.

Drew, a former University of Arizona golfer, was back in Tucson last weekend, caddying for Allison Finney at the Legends Tour event at the Omni Tucson National Resort. On the women's senior tour, caddies and players alike use golf carts. "I love that," Drew allows.

On the LPGA Tour, Drew works for Moira Dunn, ranked 64th. That's all on foot.

"I'm on my feet six, seven days a week," Drew said.

With the help of good health practices, good fortune and a medication that has prevented relapses, Drew is still "totally involved in golf.

"In terms of having MS, I'm pretty lucky I have options," Drew said at the Omni practice range Saturday afternoon. "You actually can do something. Here I am, carrying a 35-, 40-pound golf bag miles around a golf course six or seven days a week.

"I can't think of anything better."

Heather Drew played on the LPGA Tour for 16 years. Her highest finish was second. "It would have been such a sweet little ending" to win a tournament, Drew said.

In October 1996, Drew was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

She'd finished a season on the pro tour, and was playing pro-ams. At a stop in Phoenix, "I just didn't feel all that great. It was weird. I knew something was wrong."

Drew traveled to Louisiana for a stop, and her condition worsened. "Uh-oh. Something's really wrong." She knew it from her back swing. "My leg was weak," Drew said, demonstrating the golf swing. "Then my whole right side was weak, and my left side was numb. I got up in the morning and said 'I can't play.'"

She went back to California. On Monday, she was tested. That Wednesday, "I knew I had MS. It was a life-changing moment, devastating."

So much ran through her head. Was a wheelchair in her future? Could she ever play golf again? "I had to deal with that. It was a very scary time for me."

At that time, MS patients did not immediately begin taking medications. Heather rested. She began to feel better. The questions persisted. "What do I do? I play golf."

Six weeks after the diagnosis, Heather began to practice ahead of the 1997 season. She returned. Then, in December 1998, another problem. "It felt like a wetsuit a size or two too tight," she said. "I did not have much feeling in my feet."

That's the episode "that prompted me to get on medication," Drew said.

Drew has been on Copaxone since January 2000. It is a daily injectable medication, just under the skin, with a relatively small-gauge, short needle. She does the "Copaxone Macarena," injecting a different part of her body daily, as part of her regular routine.

"When I did decide to go on drug therapy, I felt a certain measure of control over the disease," she said. "That's made a world of difference mentally.

"Uncertainty is the hardest thing" about MS, Drew said. "You don't know when a problem's going to happen, and what kind of recovery you're going to have."

Heather Drew has been relapse-free for nearly 11 years. "I haven't had a problem since I've been on it," she said. "I feel very, very lucky. It is allowing me to do exactly what I want to be doing, on a golf course, watching golf in beautiful cities all around the world."

Drew retired from the tour because "it wasn't fun" anymore, she said. "My game was kind of cruddy." It was that loss of competitive satisfaction, rather than the disease, that led Drew to her decision.

What was next?

"What do you think about caddying?" Finney asked Drew. They worked together for five years.

"I had to learn how to be a decent caddy," Drew said. "Right away, I'm thinking like a player. 'Go on, you can hit that shot.' Sometimes, I have to protect whoever I'm caddying for from making a big number. Especially, when they hit it into some trouble."

With Dunn, "I understand, being on the playing side of the bag, getting mad," Drew said. "If I can get her back under control, and the sooner the better, I can help her be able to calm down."

Being calm helps Heather manage her disease, which is officially called relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. "I have periods of really good, healthy living, then a spike," Drew said. "Knock on wood, I've been able to recover from each episode."

Smart diet and exercise are important. "You just want to stay away from stress," she said.

"Between the medication and a really good support system, I couldn't have done it without that." Her three brothers are supportive. "The players that are here this week are like an extended family. It's been incredible."

On the tour, Drew has encounters with people affected by MS. "There are times I actually can see I am helping," she said. People come up to her and say "'I have MS. My wife has MS. My mom.' We have an interaction. What would have helped me when I was diagnosed is if I could have seen somebody like me."

Team Copaxone has some remarkable high achievers, among them a mountain climber trying to scale Everest, a triathlete, a mountain bike racer.

"As a group, yes, I can say we are inspirational," Drew said. "It dovetails with the caddying. I'm there to support, to provide information."

The LPGA Tour has lost a number of events. Drew used to caddy 25 events a year, and never played herself. Now, with fewer opportunities to work, Drew has more chances to play. She'll play her first competitive rounds in three years this summer, at the Colorado Open with her brother John, who's going to be "my calming influence."

"I'm a lot nervous about it," Drew said. "I hope I can just draw on my own experiences. I'm hoping it won't be too intense. It makes me sick thinking about it."

But she'll do it. Drew lost her father, Leon Drew, last year. "He'd be kind of disappointed I've given my golf game a back seat," she said. "You can't sit on the sidelines."

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