SAINT SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Joaquin Niemann missed the Masters last week after testing positive for COVID-19. It sounds like a horrible twist of fate until you consider that the 22-year-old Chilean is dealing with graver medical concerns.
Niemann’s one-month-old cousin, Rafita Calderon, was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a rare genetic disease that affects about one in every 10,000 babies born every year. Calderon is battling for his life, desperately needing a one-time injection of Zolgensma, a drug which according to Niemann costs $2.1 million.
Calderon is at a medical center in Santiago, five hours from where the family lives, awaiting treatment.
“When they told me that [Rafita] is going to have like a really bad disease I didn’t realize what it was, like I didn’t put like much attention on it,” Niemann said of the disease that is the No. 1 genetic cause of infant death. “Then a couple days go on, they tell us the bad news, that this medicine was this much amount of money … I was in my mind going crazy, ‘what can I do to help out?'”
In an Instagram post this week, Niemann committed to donate all of his earnings for the RSM Classic and the Mayakoba Classic to help fund the expensive medical bills for Rafita. Niemann also promised to contribute $5,000 for every birdie and $10,000 for every eagle. Entering Sunday’s final round, he had already made 15 birdies, adding $90,000 to his donation.
“This week I am playing for something bigger,” Niemann posted. “You may have seen me post about Rafita, a 20-day old baby that is battling for his life fighting a rare disease called SMA. Spinal Muscular Atrophy symptoms are often seen when babies are first born. They have weak muscle tone and trouble breathing, eating and swallowing. Unfortunately, the only cure is $2.1 million (USD). I will be donating all of my earnings this week and next to help save his life, as well as pledging $10,000 for every eagle, $5,000 for every birdie.”
“I found that I could do like a big help here in the U.S. because being here on the Tour, there’s a lot of people that is really interested in this kind of stuff,” he said after the third round of the RSM Classic. “If I’m able to help, it would be amazing, it would be a dream for me come true.”
Niemann said he grew up playing with Rafita’s father, Felipe, 33, who is first cousin to Niemann’s mother.
“Just thinking about him, I love him and his family, they’re really nice,” Niemann said. “And he’s said things like, ‘this happens,’ so I think it’s kind of like a mission that for me to help out for them.”
So far, the GoFundMe has raised just over $42,000 in its goal of funding the procedure. You can donate to the cause through the GoFundMe here.