A Golfer Aiming to Save More Than Strokes on a Scorecard

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He took a photograph of his wife when she was breathing with the help of a ventilator. Audrey Leishman said she refers to it whenever she is laid low by lingering fatigue and muscle weakness, because it reminds her of how far she has come.

“It took a very, very long time for me to feel good again,” she said.

Cornelius, who has battled sepsis twice, started a support group on Facebook for survivors. The page attracted the attention of Audrey Leishman, who responded to a post. From there, a friendship took root.

Leishman had no idea so many others had been afflicted with sepsis, which can be caused by something as simple as a cut or an insect bite and can lead to tissue damage and organ failure. It kills 258,000 Americans a year, according to a 2016 report by the advocacy group Sepsis Alliance.

Identifying the symptoms early is critical, Marc Leishman said, because every hour that sepsis goes untreated, the mortality rate increases by 7 percent. “If you can catch it early, it’s antibiotics, probably in the hospital for a day, and see you later,” he said. “If you don’t catch it early enough, there’s probably going to be a funeral not too far down the road.”

To create awareness and to assist sepsis survivors, the Leishmans started the Begin Again Foundation last year. Cornelius and her husband, Samuel, are among the several hundred families to have received $1,000 grants from the foundation to defray expenses in the past year and a half. Last October, Cornelius and her husband were guests of the Leishmans at a charity golf tournament for the foundation that was held in Virginia Beach, where the Leishmans make their home.

Photo

After he won the BMW Championship this month, Leishman posed with his wife, Audrey, their infant daughter, Eva, and their sons, Harvey, left, and Oliver.

Credit
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

The trip was a big deal to Cornelius, who said her bouts with sepsis have made her reluctant to leave the house because she becomes anxious that she will get sick again.

“Audrey and Marc have changed my life,” said Cornelius, who cited their financial and emotional support.

“There are people I’ve known my whole life who disappeared because they really didn’t know what to do or say,” Cornelius said, adding: “Audrey’s always there when I need an ear. She’s so compassionate.”

The burden on the caretakers of sepsis survivors can be great. Audrey Leishman said Marc had “really stepped up” during her recovery, taking a more active role in caring for their sons, Harvey, 5, and Oliver, 3.

Leishman’s willingness to do whatever is required of him dates to his late teens when he briefly worked a graveyard shift operating a laser cutter, turning thick sheets of metal into different shapes, to help pay his tournament entry fees. He had a hard time staying awake, an occupational hazard of an undertaking in which, he said, “you could lose a limb pretty easily if you’re not careful.”

Leishman, 33, wanted to proceed with extreme caution when his wife, who had been trying to get pregnant at the time she developed sepsis, expressed a desire last year to have another child. Fearful of how Audrey’s body would respond to a pregnancy, Leishman remained opposed to the idea even after gaining assurances from her doctor that she would be O.K. He swallowed his concerns when he saw how much having another baby meant to her.

“I didn’t feel like our family was complete,” Audrey Leishman said, adding, “If we had stopped, I would have always felt that getting sick robbed us of another child, and I think I would have grieved that loss for the rest of my life.”

In July, she gave birth to a daughter, Eva. Asked when he stopped worrying about his wife during her pregnancy, Marc said, “Never.”

Leishman, the 2009 PGA Tour rookie of the year, had one victory in his first seven seasons before winning twice in his eighth. Going into last week’s Tour Championship, he was a career-high 15th in the world rankings. Because his responsibilities at home have increased, he is practicing less, but with more purpose — smarter, not longer. On tournament weeks, bad shots or sideways rounds do not sting as much.

“I’ve been through a lot off the golf course, the stuff with Audrey, and I feel like that kind of makes golf not less important, but it’s easy to put things into perspective,” Leishman said, adding: “It’s a golf tournament. It’s not a life-or-death situation.”

Leishman’s easygoing nature was what attracted Audrey to him as they forged a long-distance relationship after a chance meeting in a Williamsburg, Va., bar. But it has also made an indelible impression on others.

After meeting the Leishmans, Cornelius said, she was taken with one of Marc’s favorite catchphrases. It has become her daily mantra: “No worries.”



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