ELIZABETHTOWN - 15-year old Brock Marvin has been through a lot in the past year, but last week he had the experience of a lifetime.
Marvin, who suffered a life-threatening heart attack last April, has since been undergoing treatment for dilated cardiomyopathy. The genetic disorder has caused his heart to grow four times the size of a normal heart and pump blood at a rate significantly lower than the average person.
Though he has been able to lead an otherwise normal lifestyle, the honor roll student and star athlete had to give up many activities that raise his heart rate, including the sports he loves.
One sport he was allowed to continue, however, was golf.
"I've been into golf since just after the heart attack," Marvin said. "I've really started to enjoy it."
That's why when Marvin and his family were informed by the Make-a-Wish foundation that he was eligible to participate in their program, he asked to go with his father and younger brother to the Bob Hope Classic, a pro-am celebrity golf tournament held in LaQuinta, CA.
"The Bob Hope Classic has a diverse group of celebrities and golfers," Marvin said. "Plus, the weather is always gorgeous down there."
About a week prior to the Bob Hope Classic on Jan. 10, Marvin was informed that he and his family members were invited on an all-expenses-paid trip to the tournament. Still, he was unaware of the many surprises that awaited him there.
While at the tournament from Jan 21-25, Brock, his father, Walter, and brother, Connor, got to mingle with dozens of celebrities including everyone from Alice Cooper to Dan Quayle.
The greatest surprise came that Saturday when tournament officials arranged for Brock to meet with Hall of Fame golfer Arnold Palmer.
"It was crazy," Brock said. "The guy is a legend. Just being in the same room with him was amazing."
Palmer led Brock to the driving range, drawing a crowd of spectators along the way. It was there where he imbued the young man with a bit of his trademark technique.
"Basically, he showed me the same grip his father had showed him," Brock explained. "I teed one off and hit it down the middle perfect."
The 3-wood drive went about 200 yards.
It was that moment, Brock said, that represented the culmination of the whole experience for him; an experience that's among the best he's ever had.
"Palmer was great; he just turned around and said, 'My work here is done,'" recalled Walter.
Brock said that the 79-year-old Palmer reminded him a lot of his late grandfather, who also enjoyed golf. He and Walter both described Palmer as being very down-to-earth despite the admiration he drew from both celebrities and professional golfers.
During the final round of the tournament, Brock and Connor served as standard bearers, displaying scores while they followed players through the course. Brock praised the Make-a-Wish Foundation for their excellent work coordinating the week's worth of travel and itinerary.
"They made it more than just a trip," he said; "they made it an experience. They made it a memory."
With gradual improvement in his condition and the hope in a cutting-edge treatment, the Marvins hope to make that memory last for years to come.
In October, his heart had worsened to the point where doctors considered a transplant, but a new pacemaker-defribrulator implanted in his chest allowed his heart to beat more regularly, greatly improving its ability to pump blood.
Sometime in April, Brock is scheduled to undergo a new procedure involving stem cell therapy, which should help regrow damaged tissue in his heart. A series of fundraisers throughout the latter part of 2008 helped raise the approximately $60,000 needed to pay for the procedure.
For now, however, Brock will be looking for a chance to practice his new golf swing.