SOMERSET, Mass. (AP) — Keith Mello can't complain. He's getting some sharp custom-made golf duds and a spot in one of New England's premier golf events. And he's only 12 years old.
The sixth-grader at Somerset Middle School has happily accepted an invitation to play in the All Kids Can Play Three Hole Challenge, a new component of the popular CVS Caremark Charity Classic at Rhode Island Country Club June 23 to 25 in Barrington, R.I.
Mello will be in a foursome with three members of the Barrington High School golf team. His caddy will be his cardiologist, Dr. Lloyd Feit, and Mello will be playing on behalf of the American Heart Association, one of the tournament's charities.
With the AHA and a cardiologist involved in this delightful mix, it should come as no surprise that Mello has an issue with his heart. It's a very serious issue, though one he doesn't seem to dwell on and one that he won't let get in the way of being an active kid.
Since even before birth, Mello has suffered from hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The left side of his heart is so underdeveloped that it is basically useless, leaving him with essentially a two-chambered heart — right atrium, right ventricle.
The defect was discovered in the 24th week of his mother Cindy's pregnancy, and the outlook was extraordinarily bleak.
"We were not given much hope for this child," Cindy Mello said. "We did a lot of research, called a lot of doctors. It seemed I was always told that there was no hope, no quality of life for this child if he were to be born."
Cindy Mello said she was told by doctors to terminate the pregnancy, an option she would not even consider. "I swore I would do all I could to save this baby," she said.
Among the options Cindy and her husband, Gary, were looking at were comfort care (deliver the baby and take him home to die) or a possible heart transplant. The latter was highly unlikely due to the great difficulty in getting an infant heart.
The Mellos refused to stop searching, asking and hoping.
Finally, they found Feit at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence. He pointed the Mellos to Boston's Children Hospital, which was having success with a three-stage surgery for HLHS.
Keith Mello was born in Boston and had surgery at 1½ days, at nine months, and at 19 months. He subsequently underwent several cauterizations but, his mother said, has no procedures looming.
His mother describes Keith as a typical boy. He plays basketball and soccer, enjoys riding his bicycle and scooter. His condition does prohibit him from playing high-impact sports like hockey and football, and it sometimes leads to reducing his playing time in a given game. And in the future it may limit him in some competitive sports due to the rigor of training required.
Still, Mello just looks like another kid on the soccer field or basketball court.
"If I'm playing, I might get tired quickly when other kids aren't so tired," said Mello, a high honors student. "Other than that I don't see a difference."
The All Kids Can Play Three Hole Challenge is scheduled for June 24. The CVS Charity Classic as a whole runs from June 23-25, starting with the Pepsi Pro-Am on Sunday. The Charity Classic proper, featuring some of the top golfers in the world, runs June 24 to 25.
Mello on June 4 joined in an official practice "round" at the beautiful RICC, getting to play the three holes (Nos. 16, 17, 18) that will make up his event.
"It was nice, and easy to hit off," Mello said.
Nominated for a spot in the event by Feit, Mello knew nothing of it until Feit emailed the Mellos with the big news.
"It was a surprise," Mello said.
Mello picked up golf two years ago and often plays with his father and brother, Kevin, 17. According to his mother, Mello's favorite golfer is Arnold Palmer, but not because of Palmer's legendary golf accomplishments, but rather because Arnie's picture is on the cans of Arizona Iced Tea, a drink Mello loves.
When he visited RICC last week, Mello was fitted for the outfit — hat, shirt, shorts, shoes — he will wear in the Three Hole Challenge. The ensemble's main color will be orange. It is being supplied by Puma, which sponsors Rickie Fowler, one of the young stars on the PGA Tour and a participant in this year's CVS event. Orange is Fowler's Sunday (final round) color.