Northwest News

USGA’s Danny Sink, family find comfort in Tacoma’s Tree House

As the U.S. Open championship director, Danny Sink admits, “In my world, I am an event-to-event guy.”

Which also means he and his family move from city to city.

So imagine Sink’s reaction when he got the phone call from his bosses at the United States Golf Association that he was being assigned to oversee the national open at Chambers Bay — right after spending time in bustling downtown districts in New York City and San Francisco?

“I stayed in our house before the movers got our stuff to Gig Harbor,” Sink said. “And I told my wife, ‘We’ve moved somewhere that is quiet and very dark.’ ”

But a place that has very much become home for Sink; his wife, Lindsay; and two children, Kennedy and Brennan.

Whether it is permanent remains to be seen. Sink’s extensive planning of the U.S. Open at links-style Chambers Bay is about to be put in motion in a few weeks.

Once it is finished, he will also be around a few extra months to oversee the restoration of the Pierce County-owned golf course and surrounding property through September.

After that? The Sinks know lots of options are on the table.

Until they receive new marching orders, they plan on sticking around.

“My wife begs for us to stay in Washington,” Sink said.

Knowing very little about the Pacific Northwest before moving here in October 2012, Sink likes to tell a story of the family’s first night together in Gig Harbor.

“We don’t know anybody,” Sink said. “At the grocery store, the cashier asked me for (identification). When I showed her my California driver’s license, she asked what were we doing here.

“I told her, and then she spent 15 minutes giving us recommendations. That is when I took a look at my wife and knew it was going to work here.”

The family experienced a high point early last year, welcoming a newborn son — Brennan.

And a few months later, the Sinks encountered a life-changing low point.

It came April 26. The Sinks decided to take a Saturday mid-afternoon walk around the Chambers Bay Loop for the first time — an activity they often did in other scenic parts of the South Sound.

They had reached the upper trail behind the 14th tee box. Sink was pushing Kennedy around in a stroller. Lindsay stayed close behind toting Brennan — then 4 months old — in a front pack carrier.

Suddenly, both parents got their feet tangled. Lindsay tripped and fell forward. Brennan hit his head on the pavement.

“He was screaming,” Sink said. “She was on the ground with a hurt knee. I grabbed him to comfort him, and noticed his head … swelling up twice its size on the right side.

“He looked like he had a basketball on the side of his head.”

Watching his son go in and out of consciousness, Sink grabbed his phone and called 911. West Pierce Fire & Rescue arrived on site in less than five minutes.

Brennan was transported by ambulance to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital — with Lindsay by his side. By the time Sink arrived by car with his daughter, 10 doctors and nurses were already tending to the infant.

One of them was Dr. William Morris, one of the area’s leading pediatric neurosurgeons. He performed Brennan’s 3 1/2-hour emergency brain surgery.

From the fall, not only had Brennan fractured his skull, he had also tore the dura — a thick membrane that protects the brain from shifting around inside the skull.

With so much epidural bleeding and swelling, Brennan was in serious condition. Morris told the Sinks their son had a 50 percent chance to live.

“He was in a coma,” Sink said.

One of the first people to visit the Sinks at Mary Bridge was Larry Gilhuly, the USGA’s West Region agronomy director and a Gig Harbor resident.

“You just can’t imagine what you’d do in this situation, or how you’d react,” Gilhuly said. “I would have been a mess … but Danny was holding up extremely well. His concern for Lindsay was very deep, and very real.

“And then there was Brennan. He was just a tough little guy.”

During all of that, the Sinks discovered the Tree House — across-the-street housing for families with a loved one in critical care.

The complex, located adjacent to Wright Park, has 42 sleep rooms with private bathrooms; a family room with big-screen televisions; a children’s playroom; and a communal kitchen and dining room.

The nightly rate is $40, but no eligible family is ever turned away if it cannot pay.

“Those nurses at the hospital saw us at our deepest, darkest time,” Sink said. “I cried in the hallways. I did not sleep for days.

“The Tree House saved us. We could sneak in a two-hour nap if we needed it. Volunteers would bring in food. We ended up staying there for almost two weeks.”

For five days, doctors kept Brennan in a coma as his brain swelling decreased. Once that ended, he still could not move — his left side was completely paralyzed.

Slowly, the infant began showing auspicious signs of recovery, starting with moving his left finger.

On May 6, 11 days after the accident, Brennan was cleared to leave the hospital and go home.

Months of rehabilitation awaited. It was such a crucial time that Sink took an indefinite leave from his USGA job to be with his family.

“After the accident, Brennan lacked perceptual awareness in his left side, specifically in his arm, hand and fingers,” Lindsay said. “We are seeing improvements all the times in his ability to not only be aware of that side, but to use it successfully.”

Now 17 months old, Brennan continues to go to physical therapy twice a week with Larry Murray of Peninsula Pediatric Therapy.

The constant goal is to strengthen Brennan’s left side. He is 30 pounds, but still cannot walk. In fact, just recently he began to crawl up two stairs by himself.

“He smiles. He laughs. He talks,” Sink said. “He is there mentally.”

The Sinks receive constant outpouring of support from not only people in Gig Harbor, but around the county — and across the country.

A few weeks ago was the one-year anniversary of the accident. The Sinks surprised Mary Bridge hospital staff by bringing in 50 Chick-fil-A sandwiches as a way to say thanks.

“The most difficult question we get is, ‘How is Brennan doing?’ ” Sink said. “He is doing great, but it is a lot of work.”

At some point during the U.S. Open, the Sinks will return to the spot of the accident and watch some golf for 10 to 15 minutes.

“It will be closure,” Sink said.

The Sinks have also vowed to be ardent supporters of the Tree House as their personal charity.

“A friend once said to me, ‘Everyone has a story that will break your heart,’ ” Lindsay said. “We don’t want that to be the takeaway from this. Our story is one of resilience and love, and the positive effects a community can have on an individual (family).”