Well, that made the situation sticky. She refused to take a kidney from a relative. She was on the waiting list for a cadaver kidney. That was good enough for her. "I'm not imposing on anybody," she said. Daniel was so scared that he couldn't watch her undergo treatment anymore. He started picking up medical handbooks about dialysis. He talked to Shirlee's doctors. He learned the dangers of becoming a kidney transplant donor. He knew that if he gave Shirlee one of his kidneys, he would have to give up contact sports forever—one hard hit from behind, and he could end up on life support. On the other hand, he learned that eight people the each day in the U.S. while waiting for an organ. The wait for a cadaver kidney can be two years. At the rate Shirlee was shrinking, that would be a year and a half too much.
And so, somewhere between the Whopper and the onion rings, Daniel made up his mind. "Gran," he said, "I can't take it anymore. I want you to take my kidney."
"No, no, no," she said. "You're too young. What if something happens?"
"Gran, I don't care what happens to me. I'm doin' this!"
"Absolutely not," she said. "Besides, when I think about you giving up football, it makes me sick to my stomach."
Daniel got good and mad. He yelled, "Gran, you always told me, 'Stand up for what you believe in.' Well, I'm standin' up! You're takin' my kidney!"
You do not hear that every day at Burger King. Every head in the joint turned. "Well," Shirlee whispered, sliding back in her chair, "we'll see if we match."
Getting around Daniel's mother was even dicier. Alice was foursquare against the donation. When Daniel decided to go ahead with the operation anyway, Alice took action. She wrote a letter to the University of Illinois Medical Center, where Daniel and his grandmother wanted the transplant to take place, and asked how the surgeons could take organs from minors. The center, which had not known Daniel's age, declined to allow the operation.
Daniel was dogged. If he waited until his 18th birthday—Dec. 24—Shirlee might be too weak to survive the operation. "He was ready to go to court on this," says Jeff Miller, transplant coordinator for Dr. Frederick K. Merkel, who performs surgery at the Illinois Medical Center and Chicago's Rush Presbyterian Hospital and accepts living-relative transplant donors as young as 16. The operation was on, at Rush.
The night before the July 9 surgery, Daniel was scared for both Shirlee and himself. "Gran," he said, "I gotta ask you one thing: Is this worth risking your life for?"