SACRAMENTO – Kim Kaufman said her doctors call her “unicorn.”
“Because I’m not supposed to be here,” Kaufman said recently. “My heart shouldn’t be pumping or working, but it is. So I keep going.
“For me, every day is ‘a what day.’ It’s not ‘a some day.’ Every day is a bonus day. And I just go with that.”
Kaufman was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in the spring of 2004 at the age of 29. That was 15 years ago. She has a positive spirit, a super confident attitude and energetic outlook about her, to work hard and do all that she can each and every day.
As the founder of Angels for Hearts, a Sacramento-based nonprofit organization, Kaufman organizes a program, “I Heart Golf,” assisting kids ages 4 to 18 in the game of golf. “I Heart Golf” began in February of 2014 at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento with 30 kids, then switched locations, moving to Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, which includes two championship golf courses, a teaching facility with over 15 golf professionals, a lighted driving range, and junior, senior, group, and private programs.
“They were all given a set of golf clubs to start. Everything we do is free to families and the kids. They never pay for anything. We fundraise and have sponsors and grants to help us do everything. So the heart parents, the families don’t have to worry about anything,” Kaufman said.
Kelli Corlett, an LPGA Class A Member and the Director of Youth, Family and Adaptive Golf for Morton Golf, LLC, leads the instructional program for “I Heart Golf.” There are two additional coaches for the juniors, with 34 kids taking part.
“It was an amazing season, with clinics,” Kaufman said. “We couldn’t be more excited to be here with Kelly and the Morton family. We wouldn’t be able to have this program without them. Kelly is amazing with our kids. Everyone here Haggin is amazing with our kids.”
The mission of Angels for Hearts “was founded in August of 2008 on the idea of making sure that pediatric heart patients maintain some sense of normalcy of being a kid while having pediatric heart issues and growing up in hospital settings. We strive to help these children remember that first and foremost they are kids before they are heart kids,” according to www.facebook.com/pg/AngelsForHearts/about
Registration for “I Heart Golf” is limited to the first 35 participants. There is a series of four free clinics, which began in March and continued into early June. It’s for heart kids, heart siblings and families.
There are two other events scheduled for this year, on Sept. 14 and Oct. 12, where the kids play six or nine holes with their parents, along with Corlett. Scholarships are available for The First Tee and The Northern California Institute of Golf Junior Programs.
The mission of The First Tee is “To impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf,” according to thefirsttee.org/about/
The Northern California Institute of Golf “is committed to bringing excellence to the long-term development of its junior golfers. The Northern California Institute of Golf is committed to guiding your child through their journey within the game of golf,” according to www.hagginoaks.com
There are nine members on the Angels for Hearts organization’s all-volunteer board of directors. Angels for Hearts assists children, including those who have congenital heart defects.
“We help to share awareness about pediatric heart patients by reminding people that pediatric heart patients are kids first and foremost before they are heart patients,” according to the organization’s mission at angelsforhearts.org/
Kaufman said she was brought up to always help others. She is doing just that with Angels for Hearts.
A CT scan late in November of 2004 determined that Kaufman was in heart failure.
“I was fast-tracked for a heart transplant. And then in 2006, I was told I was taken off the list for medical reasons,” she said. “I was scared.”
It was during her first night as a patient at Stanford Medical Center when, walking around the cardiac area, that Kaufman saw two kids who were in hospital rooms. They were patients as well.
“I went from being totally normal and healthy, to heart failure. You’re no longer going to work, you’re going to live with your parents. This is your life,” Kaufman said.
She recalled telling herself at the time, “I can’t just sit here. I need to help somebody else.”
This is how Angels for Hearts began. Kids who had never played golf, who did not know anything about the game, are now swinging clubs, hitting golf balls, getting exercise, walking the course, connecting with others around them.
Each of the participants receives a free set of clubs.
There are families that travel from as far as San Francisco and Chico for “I Heart Golf.” The program partners with California Pizza Kitchen, a sponsor, which provides dinner at no charge for families that travel more than two hours.
“You watch these kids – they’re so quiet and reserved. We get them out on the golf course. It’s like butterflies that shed their cocoon and they have their wings,” said Kaufman. “They’re getting to play a sport with their siblings. Golf is something the whole family can play.
“We’ve got kids that have played with us for six years. And then we have new families. We’re growing. These kids are just having so much fun. We’ve had two go on to play on their high school teams.”
Kaufman is looking into trying to expand “I Heart Golf,” by finding a location in the Bay Area, so that it’s not as time-consuming travel-wise for families.
“We’re super excited about Angels for Hearts and all the things we’re doing,” she pointed out. “When heart kids are on the golf course, they’ll tell you, ‘I’m not a heart kid. I’m a golfer.’ And that, to me is one of the most inspiring things. I’ve learned so much from these heart kids.”
Players are in golf attire – collared shirts and golf shorts.
Guests and volunteers are in the same attire.
Kaufman started Angels for Hearts with her family and friends. Angels for Hearts works with four hospitals — UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, UC Davis Medical Center, Sutter Children’s Center Sacramento.
The organization works with child life specialists at the hospitals and has donated iPads to young patients.
“We find these needs from child life specialists, the doctors, the heart families, and we go out and fundraise and make it happen,” said Kaufman. “We have a program called ‘Wishes, Wants and Needs,’ where a child life specialist can call us.”
Kaufman estimates that Angels for Hearts has helped over 1,500 friends, families and kids, and has raised over $350,000.
“It all goes back to the heart families and our kids and child life specialists,” she said. “It’s been something amazing. I’m still in shock and awe of what Angels for Hearts has accomplished and what we’re doing.”
For more information, go to www.AngelsforHearts.org.
Written by Marty James, a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa, CA. He retired on June 4, after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016.