Daniel’s passion for baseball is a shared family trait with his father, but he wants to take his game even further, achieving above and beyond in professional baseball.
He plays video games like any other fifteen year old boy, but he’s more likely to be found outside playing on his JB and little league teams or even amongst his younger neighbors. “I always have a bunch of kids crowding my doorstep waiting for Daniel to get home and play baseball with them,” his mom, Lisa, laughs. Preferring to get things done and follow the rules, he was more of a homebody than a firecracker. His real dedication and passion went into baseball and anything it took to further his goals of scholarships.
With the new fall semester fast approaching Daniel didn’t know what to expect from his routine physical, but it certainly wasn’t a whirlwind of hospital visits. He was barely in the doctor’s office for five minutes before he was being told his “neck looked full,” – despite no visible lumps or swelling. Their new doctor asked them to get an ultrasound done just to be sure. When the scans came back only to say that his doctor’s suspicions were correct, Daniel’s neck wasn’t just full looking: he had thyroid cancer. While the technicians were amazed his doctor had caught the cancer before it could get any worse, the news was devastating for Daniel. What did this mean for his baseball career? With the diagnosis Daniel worried he would never be able to play baseball again. So much of Daniel’s life was devoted to the sport that it seemed impossible that anything could take it away, much less an illness that had manifested as practically invisible.
Daniel had been diagnosed with diffuse sclerosing papillary thyroid cancer and went through total thyroid removal. His two teams and schoolwork were pushed to the side as he went immediately into a nine hour surgery. Of the 47 total lymph nodes that were removed, 27 of them had already been touched by the spreading cancer. Daniel had absolutely no energy left. It was difficult enough to go day by day after such an invasive surgery, much less other activities he used to keep up with. He was in and out of the hospital constantly for three days, trying to get his medication balanced enough that he could begin to rest. Stuck on a low iodine diet that made it impossible for him to eat anything containing iodized salt, red dye #3, dairy products, eggs, seafood, or even soy, Daniel struggled through his medical expectations. With every hurdle he jumped, he only seemed to find two more ahead of him. When he was finally able to take the final radioactive iodine pill, it was not even the end. Daniel had to be completely isolated from human contact for five days. He could only use plastic forks and even had to wipe everything he touched off with Clorox wipes due to the radiation in his medication. Despite the isolation, the treatment would get rid of the last of the contaminated tissue the surgery had missed, and Daniel was determined to see this through to the end.
Daniel had barely gotten into his first year of high school when he was diagnosed. With the treatments and fatigue, his missing school days quickly began to add up. His scholarship goals had gone from achievable with hard work to impossible. When the call from Make-A-Wish® came to inform them Daniel had been approved for a wish, it was completely out of the blue! Daniel had asked his mom about the Make-A-Wish opportunities when hearing about other kids being granted wishes, but it was CHOP that submitted his name on their behalf. Daniel had a number of wishes in mind, but from players to teams they all revolved around baseball. While he at first only wanted to meet a retired or specific few players, his wish soon evolved into a chance to really live out his dreams. Daniel asked for a chance to participate in the spring training with his favorite team, the Yankees. Spring training would not only allow him to meet a multitude of his heroes, but it would give him a chance to see historic stadiums and play on their fields. From time in the dugout to one on one advice from true players, spring training would allow Daniel experience what life was like for a professional player on the field alongside the heroes he’d only ever watched from afar.
His entire experience with the New York Yankees was an emotional time for Daniel. He was overwhelmed, ecstatic, and beyond words that he could even be amongst the players – he even broke down meeting some of his heroes on the field. Each one of them took the time to talk with Daniel, encourage him and ask about his future plans from the rookies to the Hall of Famers. He got to explore the whole stadium, go into the clubhouse, sit in the dugout for an inning, try on a world series signet ring and even get bumped up to better seats thanks to the generosity of the team’s family. Everyone who saw Daniel went out of their way to make it perfect for him. Joe Girargdi, the manager, not only made Daniel an honorary manager, but promised to keep in touch -- hoping to see Daniel play for Hanks Yanks sometime. He kept his word, texting to find out how Daniel was doing not a week after meeting him. He got advice on how to train, what other sports to play to build up his strength, and every player encouraged his passion. “It’s so sad what he had to go through to make this dream come true for him,” His mom explains, “but to watch it come true was amazing. I can’t believe I didn’t just cry all day.”
Now, Daniel’s focuses are on getting his grades back up after his absences and dedicating himself to the advice he was given. Protein powder, protein bars, anything he can do to get his energy levels back up, Daniel tries it all. At 15, Daniel was old enough to be completely aware of the repercussions of his illness not only on his family, but on his future health and plans. His mom worried about his hopes and passions when she knew he could easily be driven into hopelessness by the illness. Yet, his wish experience gave Daniel a chance to see that the illness had not taken everything from him. While it had stolen time from him, it couldn’t take away the passion and hope that seeing the players and a bright future his wish experience gave him.