Once a teammate, always a teammate. Van Burgess was reminded of that recently.
Some of his former Wofford golf teammates held a tournament in the fall to aid Burgess’ 4-year-old daughter, Lettie, who is battling cancer.
“It really kind of came out of the blue,” says Burgess, a 2004 graduate. “As far as contact with those guys, we’d maybe exchange a random Facebook message. But on a daily basis, we had drifted away. It really caught me off guard.”
Lettie, the third of the Burgess’ four children, was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma on April 27. She had a large mass in the middle of her chest that was crushing her airway and pressing on her heart. Burgess says members of the medical team treating Lettie told him it was one of the largest masses they had seen in a child Lettie’s age.
The mass was inoperable. Lettie began her first round of chemotherapy on April 28 and was fully sedated for about 12 days.
“When they gave her the first dose of chemotherapy, it had to start kicking in fairly quickly,” Burgess says. “They kept her on her stomach and came in and moved her head every hour or so. Around May 8 they took the breathing tube out and she could finally be on her back and be somewhat comfortable.”
In September, a scan showed that the chemotherapy had reduced the mass by about half. Lettie will continue on her treatment plan until late 2022.
Adam Dox, who graduated in 2006, learned of Burgess’ situation through social media. That’s when he decided to get involved.
“I saw some folks in the community were raising money through selling bracelets and hair bows,” Dox says. “I reached out to some folks I know, and they said Van’s wife was going to have to quit working to take care of Lettie. The Lord put it on my heart to try to get some folks involved and see what we could do. I reached out to Van and said we’d like to put together a golf tournament.”
Dox recruited former teammates Wil Hutchens ’05, Marshall Swails ’06, Richard Cox ’06 and Dustin Adair ’07 to help organize the tournament. PGA Tour stars William McGirt ’01 – who was a senior when Burgess was a freshman – Dustin Johnson and Wesley Bryan joined the effort, providing items to be auctioned off. Tommy Biershenk, a longtime friend of Burgess and co-owner of Legacy Pines Golf Club near Mauldin, South Carolina, and The Rock Golf Club in Pickens, South Carolina, and his brother, Nick, agreed to co-host the event.
“It speaks volumes that Van impacted people in such a positive way that they were willing to step up even 15 years later,” Dox says. “We’re all competitive, and we’re not going to sit by and let something just happen when we can do something about it.”
Dox and company hoped the tournament would raise $8,000. It brought in $31,000, a number that thrilled organizers.
“When you’re going through something like this, the last thing you need to worry about is money,” Dox says. “It’s one of the hardest things to ask for. This is one way we’re saying we’re here for you.”
Burgess says he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support of his former teammates and everyone involved.
“What it turned into was absolutely amazing,” Burgess says. “It turned into some people I haven’t seen in 10 or 15 years coming together to support somebody who had been in their lives before, helping support my kids. None of those people there had ever met Lettie. That whole group coming together to help one of my pride and joys, you can’t get more amazing than that. That day was pure love.”
Prepared by Wofford College.