Pat Melito on the job at Bethpage Black. Photo by Howard Richman
The bed of his dump truck was up in the air, about to unload a cart of soil, when Pat Melito heard his phone ring. He answered what would end up being a life-changing call.
On the line was New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, calling to inform Melito that a 44-year-old patient on life support was donating his kidneys and pancreas, and that Melito would be the beneficiary.
Prying Melito, 47, away from Bethpage Black, site of the 101st PGA Championship this week, has never been easy. The mechanic has been a fixture at the course since the 1980s. Yet when that call came on June 6, 2018, Melito simply had to leave — for a while, at least. The following day, he spent approximately eight hours in surgery to receive a new kidney and pancreas. He emerged with what amounted to a mulligan.
“After waking up from surgery, I looked around the room and I saw a team of doctors smiling and heard the words, ‘Everything went well,’” Melito says.
Melito was antsy to get back to Bethpage Black post-surgery. He had begun dialysis five years earlier after doctors had discovered he had kidney failure, and after every treatment at NYU Winthrop University Hospital’s Dialysis Center in Bethpage, N.Y., Melito would head straight to work. On July 7 last year, he returned to work, defying the doctor’s wishes of an extended recovery period following the transplant. “My first words after surgery were, ‘When can I go back to work?’” Melito says. “They took out 48 staples from me and I was ready to roll.”
Melito had been scheduled to have the double transplant two years earlier, but that ended up being a false alarm. “The organs didn’t turn out to be a perfect match,” he says.
Bethpage Black, however, seems to suit Melito perfectly. He started there as a 17-year-old, following in the footsteps of his father, also named Pat, who worked at Belmont Lake State Park, which, like Bethpage, is operated by New York State Parks. “Growing up, he (Melito’s dad) didn’t want me to hang out with the wrong crowd, so he brought me here,” says Melito, who was raised on Long Island. He has never left Bethpage.
Take a peek inside Bethpage State Park’s mechanic shop with head mechanic Sean Brownson:
Two words come to mind when Bethpage golf manager Jim Walsh thinks about Melito: “Duracell batteries.”
“His motor is always on,” Walsh says. “He just keeps working and doesn’t let anything slow him down. He’s seen it all, done it all. He’s always like, ‘We can do this.’ He can tackle whatever project comes his way.”
Melito accomplished much of what he has in less than ideal health. He suffered from juvenile diabetes and once passed out from low blood sugar while driving. He nearly died in the resulting wreck. “I heard someone telling the people in the ambulance there was a fatality,” says Melito, who sustained a broken wrist, chest contusions and 14 stitches behind his ear. “Someone was looking out for me, because I lived.”
According to the National Kidney Foundation, the national average survival rates for kidney-pancreas transplants in adults is 95% if still functioning well one year after the operation, and 92.5% if still functioning well at three years.
Melito will reach a milestone on June 29: his 30th anniversary at Bethpage. For him, every day is a celebration of life, and he credits all of his co-workers at Bethpage State Park with keeping him going. “I love everything about what I do here,” Melito says. “And I love waking up feeling good.”
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.