For 45 minutes, Toms was unsure if he'd live

Updated: September 17, 2005, 6:05 PM ET
Associated Press

FARMINGTON, Pa. -- An intravenous tube dangling from his arm and a heart monitor beeping above his head, emergency medical technicians sprayed nitroglycerin and jabbed aspirin tablets under David Toms' tongue to try to calm his out-of-control heart.

David Toms
Toms

Moments before, one of the world's best golfers was fretting about his three putts on No. 18 at the 84 Lumber Classic. Now, his world had changed literally in a heartbeat, and he was strapped down in an ambulance racing to an unknown hospital in an unfamiliar town, his family far away and his life in danger.

Finally, unable to quiet a heart that was beating more than 170 times a minute, the technicians gave the 38-year-old Toms a shot that intentionally stopped his heart, then used electrical impulses to start it back again.

"It was a scary situation," Toms said Saturday after returning to the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, where he plans to rest before going to the Presidents Cup matches. "I really didn't know what was going on. It got obviously kind of hairy there for about 45 minutes. ... I knew right away my vitals weren't very good, and I was hurting real bad in my chest.

"At that point, they don't know if you're having a heart attack. I didn't know what was going to happen to me, really."

And to think that as he was lifted into the ambulance Thursday afternoon, "One girl started to try to put an IV in my left arm, and I said, 'I've got to go hit my second shot or I'm going to be disqualified,' " Toms said.

Toms, No. 4 on the PGA Tour money list and No. 11 in the world rankings, said his latest heart-related bout was one of about a half-dozen the last four years. One at the NEC Invitational in Akron last month prompted him to have a physical exam, but doctors found no problems.

This flare-up was much worse than any before. After hitting his tee shot on No. 1 -- he started his round at No. 10 -- he went to one knee in obvious discomfort, his face ashen-white, according to playing partner Shaun Micheel.

He was initially taken to nearby Uniontown Hospital, but a helicopter ride to Pittsburgh's UPMC Presbyterian Hospital was quickly arranged. There, Toms was first placed in the critical care unit, and a series of tests revealed an electrical malfunction in the upper chamber of his heart.

If he weren't playing in the Presidents Cup matches in Gainesville, Va., he would have stayed in Pittsburgh and had corrective surgery Monday. Instead, Toms will take medication, play his matches, then have an operation that can last as long as six hours.

Toms is so committed to playing next weekend, he will stop using the medication if it disrupts his game, though it seems unlikely any doctor would knowingly allow him to do so just to play a golf tournament.

Toms felt much better Saturday, but was tired after getting little sleep in the hospital. He considered flying home to Shreveport, La., to be with wife Sonya and their two young children, but felt he could get more rest by staying at the 84 Lumber's luxury-class players lodge than by flying twice in four days.

And, despite the frightening day, the 2001 PGA champion is relieved to know why he had the other heart-caused problems. Before, they lasted for 10 minutes or so -- about the time it takes to play a hole -- and went away.

"It's become more frequent, and that's why the doctors want me to go ahead and take care of it," said Toms, who won the Accenture Match Play Championship this year for his 11th PGA Tour victory. "I'm more at risk to wreck a car or pass out on an airplane or something like that."

Toms will hit a few balls as early as Sunday to see if he feels OK, but plans to assure U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus he can play next weekend.

"I will be OK, and he can count on me for some points," Toms said.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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