A former Jacksonville resident and heart transplant recipient was given another rare opportunity last week, this time on the golf course.
34-year-old Clay Yates of Springfield took the ceremonial first shot at the Memorial Health Championship last Thursday morning. Yates underwent surgery for a heart transplant in August of 2019 after he was diagnosed with heart failure.
Yates received a CT scan at Springfield Memorial Hospital after he had been suffering from continued shortness of breath. The scan showed he had an enlarged heart and his lungs were taking in fluid. He was soon transferred to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
He was placed on the transplant list on August 26th of 2019, and due to his severe condition was near the top of the list and underwent the 10-hour procedure four days later to receive a new heart.
A golfer since age 6, Yates is a JHS graduate and past winner of the Jacksonville City Tournament who also played in college. Now a partner in The Real Estate Group, Yates resides in Springfield with his wife and children. He says he was honored to take the ceremonial first shot at the tournament.
“When they asked if I would hit the ceremonial tee shot I of course agreed and was willing to do anything I could do to help them, but also to spread awareness of organ donation in general.”
Yates received the heart of Taylor Ware of Kansas City who passed away at the age of just 24 years old. Ware was an air traffic controller in the U.S. Marines when he passed.
Yates says like many heart recipients, he has become connected with Taylor Ware’s family and speaks to Taylor’s father at least once a week. He says in August he is planning a trip to Kansas City to attend a Chiefs NFL preseason game with members of Taylor’s family as Taylor was a big Chiefs fan.
Yates is now an ambassador for the Heart Transplant Association of St. Louis, which is a non-profit organization with the mission of providing emotional, educational, and psychological support to pre and post heart transplant patients and their families.
He says after he had a visit from one of the Heart Transplant Association ambassadors, the boost he received was so much that he decided his goal was to get well and become one himself.
“He’s still one of my close friends to this day. His name is Anthony and he’s the President of the Heart Transplant Association of St. Louis. It’s like I told him, the day he came walking through that door on his two feet it was so helpful to me to just get a glimpse of life after a transplant.
Because when you’re dying in the cardiac ICU, it’s hard to imagine getting out of the hospital and getting back to any kind of normalcy. So for him to walk in there, to take the time to meet with me in what were some of the lowest times in our life. It meant the world to me and made a huge positive impact. Because, you know, he was still living, he was still working, he was still thriving.”
Yates continues to work wherever and however he can to help spread awareness of organ donation and says he is hoping to get more involved locally with the gift of hope soon.
Yates says it’s funny how life works sometimes. Later this summer, he is heading to California to play golf in the Transplant Games of America, an Olympic-style competition for recipients of organ transplants. The match will be played at the Miramar Memorial Golf Course which is situated on the Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego. Which is the base Taylor Ware was stationed and worked as an air traffic controller.
Yates says he will be sharing that with Taylor’s family, and one of Taylor’s aunts still lives in the area and will be at the course to watch him play.
To find out more information or to donate to the Heart Transplant Association
of St. Louis, go to www.hta-stl.org