Dean Hedstrom was born August 6, 1956, in Detroit, Michigan, to Iver and Jean Hedstrom and was the third of the four boys. He was precocious and fun- loving from the minute he was born.
Dean graduated from Rochester High School in 1974 with a passion for sports. All through high school he aspired to be a professional hockey player, however, at 140 pounds, he realized that this probably was not going to happen so he turned to his second love, golf.
In 1976 Dean moved to Largo, Florida, with his fiancée, Lori, where he earned his PGA card. His PGA career positions included Assistant Professional at Feather Sound Country Club and the Head Professional at Lakewood Country Club.
After Dean and Lori moved to Florida, they married and eventually had two children, Ben and Melissa. After seventeen years of marriage, Dean and Lori divorced.
In 1996 Dean met his future wife, Kris, and adopted her eight-year-old son, Ryan.
While Dean would have loved to become a touring professional, it was not to be. Luckily, for his future golf students, this would prove to be a very good thing-Dean was born to teach.
In Florida, Dean became the Director of Golf at Ben Sutton Golf School in Sun City, and then Assistant Professional at Belleair Country Club in Belleair, Florida. His many accomplishments included: 2002 North Florida Section PGA Teacher of the Year, 2005 North Florida Section PGA West Central Chapter Teacher of the Year, and 2008 North Florida Section PGA West Central Chapter Assistant of the Year. Dean was also chosen as one of the top 500 PGA Teaching Professionals in the nation from 2002 to 2005 and was frequently featured in various golf magazines.
Always quick of wit, Dean was never at a loss for words to describe a student’s game. His style of teaching was blunt and to the point. He had a way of saying things that, if coming from anyone else, would have gotten them a black eye; but Dean would get a belly laugh and bigger tip! It is a wonder that he enjoyed the success that he did. After all, how many teachers can get away with that style of instruction? For example, Dean would often tell a student that the reason they missed the shot was, “You are just not very good.”
Golf is a humbling sport, and Dean encouraged all of his students to embrace humility. Virtually every student’s report card ended with the admonition, “Don’t give up your day job!” Yet, his popularity as a teaching golf professional was undeniable. He was ‘the pro’ to students at home as well as all over the world-from young future stars, to business leaders, and even to royalty.
In April of 2005 a tragic turn of events began when Dean went to his annual dermatology appointment. There was a suspicious spot on his back that was removed and biopsied. The next day he got the call- it was melanoma. Immediately, an initial wide local excision was performed. The pathology report came back that it was a Clark’s Level V, ulcerated melanoma; it doesn’t get much worse than that.
Dean then went to H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center where an even larger excision along with a sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy under each arm was performed. The new pathology report came back that “all margins were clear and that the lymph nodes were clean!” He was told, “Go and enjoy life, you are one of the lucky ones!” Dean was not referred to an oncologist and was simply told to go to see his dermatologist every three months, which he did…
During this time Dean became the teaching professional at Belleair Country Club and was also the personal golf coach to a very talented young golfer named Travis Ralph. Dean and Travis hit it off right from the beginning. They enjoyed an amazing friendship and bond.
In March of 2007, Dean was not feeling well. His hip was hurting from what he thought was a pulled muscle. During a skiing trip to Utah, he experienced severe headaches and had very little energy which he attributed to altitude sickness. On his return home, he went to his doctor for a physical which included a chest x-ray, and blood work. The results were that everything was okay.
On April 16, 2007, he began having problems with his vision. Two days later, on April 18, 2007, he ended up in the emergency room where a 2.4 centimeter brain tumor in his right occipital lobe was discovered.
Dean was taken by ambulance to St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg where a neurologist was on call. Over the next few days and many scans later, it was discovered that he had tumors in his brain, hip, femur, sacrum, colon and two in the lymph nodes behind his kidney, equaling a total of seven tumors. He was told that he had Stage IV Melanoma with a prognosis of three to six months to live… Before leaving St. Anthony’s, his brain tumor was treated with Gamma Knife Radiation.
Dean went back to Moffitt and was under the care of Dr. Adil Daud, one of the top melanoma specialists in the world. Since the brain tumor was still not resolved, Dean was not eligible for any clinical trials. In the meantime, a determination was made that the tumor in his colon was perforating through the lining; so surgery was performed, and the tumor was removed. Thus began his battle with the seven tumors. First, the brain tumor was dying, and next the colon tumor was gone, so he was down to five. Lastly, he was given a chemotherapy called Temodar which is in a pill form and the only chemotherapy known to break the blood brain barrier.
Soon after, the tumor in his hip began to cause him intense pain…He never complained, though. He went through numerous radiation treatments on the hip and femur but was barely able to walk and had to use a cane. One Sunday afternoon his brother in-law and his family were coming over to go boating. Dean went to close a door, and his hip snapped. The pain that he endured was unimaginable. He was taken by ambulance to Moffitt Cancer Center, where Dr. Doug Letson, a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon, who happened to be a friend of Dean’s that he had met through Travis’ family, was there to treat him.
That night Dr. Letson performed a hip replacement and inserted a rod down Dean’s femur for added support from the tumor there.
Dean recovered extremely well from the surgery and was soon up and walking; the pain in the hip was gone! Subsequent CT scans showed that the surgery had taken care of the tumor in the hip and that the radiation had taken care of the tumor in the femur. he was now down three tumors: the sacrum, and the two behind the kidney!
The tumor in the brain had not completely resolved, so the treatments that Dean could receive were still limited. He was given three rounds of Carboplatin/Pacilitaxol, a common chemotherapy treatment for melanoma patients. This would not cure Dean but would, hopefully, slow things down enough until a more intensive treatment could be used.
Finally, in November of 2007, the brain tumor seemed to be resolved so approval was given for Dean to begin IL-2 (the only FDA approved treatment for Stage IV Melanoma). It only has a 15% response rate, but it was Dean’s best shot. He was ready and raring to go! At this point it had been seven months since diagnosis-he had already beaten the odds!!
IL-2 is an extremely intense immunotherapy treatment. The patient is hospitalized and every eight hours receives an infusion of IL-2, which is an engineered human protein. The IL-2 puts the immune system into overdrive to fight the melanoma. If the patient is a responder they will have side effects of rigors (intense shaking), intense rash, skin peeling, hallucinations and water weight gain of up to 30 pounds in five days! Thankfully Dean had all of these! Normally, a patient who is a responder will have three rounds of IL-2. A round consists of five days in the hospital, a two week break, then five days in. Four weeks after finishing a round CT Scans are done. If the CT scans show that the tumors are shrinking and there are no new tumors, another round is administered until three rounds are completed. Christmas of 2007 for Dean was spent in the hospital receiving the IL-2 treatment. For Dean, it was the best gift that he could have received because he was responding. So it was a happy and hopeful time for him.
After round two of IL-2, Dean went to Moffitt to check-in for round three. At this point, he knew that Dr. Daud had accepted a position at the University of California San Francisco to head up their Melanoma Department and a new doctor would be taking over his care.
After meeting with his new doctor to check-in for what Dean thought would be his third round of treatment, the doctor concluded that, in his opinion, Dean was stable and had received the full benefit from the IL-2 so would not approve the third round. Therefore, Dean did not receive his final round.
As an alternative to IL-2, the new doctor told Dean about a new trial drug, Ipilimumab, which was showing promising results. He wanted to try to get him enrolled in this trial that had brought many stage IV patients into remission. However, the trial was only for resected melanoma patients. This means no active disease. Dean still had the tumors behind the kidney that were basically stable and the tumor on the sacrum that had been radiated. It was decided that it would be best to remove the tumors behind the kidney and then see where he was with the sacral tumor once Dean healed from the surgery. The kidney tumors were removed successfully and Dean, as always, recovered very well! He was down to one last tumor!!!
Unfortunately, just as Dean was offered participation in the Ipilimumab trial, a 9mm tumor was found in the floor of the left ventricle of the brain…. This was devastating news; this tumor would have to be treated before Dean could be accepted into the trial. He then underwent Stereotactic Radio Surgery with a new radiotherapy machine called Novalis. In addition, he underwent ten whole brain radiation treatments to make sure to get any rogue melanoma cells that may have been in the brain. Amazingly, Dean drove himself to and from these treatments.
Six weeks later an MRI of the brain was performed and, thankfully, the brain was clear! He was ready for Ipilimumab! He went to the next appointment anticipating enrollment into the trial only to be informed that they were not enlisting any new patients… He was told that there had been so many patients enrolled in Ipilimumab trials that the pharmaceutical company was not be able to produce enough of the drug to make sure that everyone currently enrolled would be able to get the complete regimen. At that point, Dean practically begged his new doctor to approve another round of IL-2 to help keep the melanoma at bay until more Ipilimumab became available but did not receive approval.
Now the sacral tumor was growing and had become increasingly painful. Dean could barely sit. He was in constant pain and taking heavy doses of pain medications. A neurosurgeon was consulted and he agreed to attempt the very risky surgery. Once this sacral tumor was gone, Dean would be NED (no evidence of disease)! Or so he thought… During the visit prior to being admitted for the surgery, Dean was informed that there was a seven centimeter tumor in his upper left mesentery that had been missed on previous scans. It was decided that Dean would continue on with the sacral surgery, he really had no choice, the pain was unbearable and the tumor was too large for any treatment to completely resolve, he would deal with the new tumor later…
After an eight hour procedure and many plates, pins and screws later, the surgery was a success! Within two days Dean, up and walking and for the first time in months, was pain free! The surgical team had placed two drains from the surgery site because the tumor was so large that it left a void in his sacral area which would fill with fluid. The drains were to remain until the fluid loss slowed down.
Dean came home with the drains but was feeling great! He was up, taking walks through the neighborhood, and able to sit comfortably. That is until one of the drains fell out… The fluid that had been draining had been full of melanoma cells. Without the drain, these cells were now trapped inside Dean’s body which meant tumors were developing all over his body.
It was decided that Dean should go to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to see if he could qualify for a new and very promising trial, TIL (Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes). This trial entails the removal of tumor from the patient. The tumor is then put into a Petri dish and engineered to grow special “super” lymphocytes. If the tumor does grow these lymphocytes, these lymphocytes are then reintroduced to the patient. Then the patient is treated with IL-2 to rev up the immune system and give the lymphocytes an extra boost to find the melanoma cells and kill them! For the patients that do have their lymphocytes grow and are able to complete the process, 40% of them will go into complete remission…
In March of 2009, Dean’s friend, Gray Gibbs, who owns a Lear Jet company flew Dean to Houston, Texas. Dean was in tremendous pain and very weak at this point. He was unable even roll over in bed by himself, yet, he never complained and never mentioned a single word about giving up the fight. The trip was grueling. Many scans, tests, and doctor appointments later, Dean had the surgery to harvest the tumor and attempt to grow the TIL. It would take four weeks to get results.
Once home, Dean went back to Moffitt to see what could be done to try to slow the disease down until they knew if the TIL had grown. He was given an infusion of chemotherapy.
The following week, Dean went for his second infusion, but his blood pressure had dropped dangerously low. He was hospitalized that day. Ten days later, on April 25, 2009, two years and one week after being diagnosed with Stage IV Melanoma, Dean lost his battle…
Dean’s final lesson is to teach us courage by his example. That he was the ultimate competitor is beyond debate. He lived by the words, “Show me a good loser, and I will show you a loser.“ Dean proved he was not a good loser; he fought with everything that he had until his very last breath…