"Oh, honey," she said, laying her withered hand on his huge one. "I have no life without this."
When she woke up in the intensive care unit, she already had her color back. "My stars!" she said to a nurse. "Now that I've got this 17-year-old kidney in me, I hope I don't feel like going out and tackling somebody!" Across the hall, though, Daniel was hurting. After a kidney transplant the donor gets months of tests—the constant blood work, the working knowledge of the hierarchy of hospital needles. Shirlee's scar is small and on her pelvis. Daniel's is 18 inches long and wraps from his navel nearly to his spine. It was Daniel who was in pain long after the surgery, not Shirlee. Who said it's more blessed to give than to receive?
But a lot of wonderful things also started happening. Daniel had quit the football team, but the football team refused to quit him. The players insisted that he wear his football jersey each Friday. He went to every practice when he wasn't working at the discount store. He rode on the senior players' float at homecoming and made the speech at the pep rally before the game. And on Friday nights you could hear his voice all over the field: "C'mon, everybody! Clap!" Funny, how somebody who wasn't even playing could be the toughest kid on the team.
Daniel is almost completely recovered. In fact, the doctors say his remaining kidney will soon be twice the size it used to be. They still haven't figured out how to measure his heart.
Daniel wants to be a writer, and he's applying for college scholarships like crazy. As for Shirlee, her weight is up to 128, she rarely uses her cane, and her vision has improved. She has even gone to some of Rossville's football games—something she couldn't do before the surgery. You should have seen her there, bursting with pride. "The boy loved his grandma more than football," she marveled, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. "Whaddya think a that?"
Folks in town seem to think a lot of it. Folks out of town too. Governor Jim Edgar wrote Daniel to say how proud he was of him, and the story of Daniel's donation was on national as well as local TV programs.
The Rossville football team didn't do too well, finishing the season last Friday at 3-6. "We sure could have used Daniel to put a body on somebody," said lineman Chad Smith. With 24 seconds left in Rossville's final game, a 28-3 win over Palestine High, Rossville's Shaun York asked to leave the game and be replaced by Daniel—who, with the coach's permission, had put on shoulder pads, a helmet and a borrowed pair of cleats. Daniel lined up 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage, and as his quarterback took the snap and downed the ball, Daniel raised his hands in a V for victory. "It was," he says, "the single best memory of my life."
Now Daniel hopes for a victory for his friend Lisa. When she was sick for two weeks last month, doctors discovered that she had a badly infected kidney. Now Lisa, too, is learning all about needles and even transplants. Luckily, she's got a 17-year-old Mayo Clinic encyclopedia to talk to on the phone, to keep her calm—and make her laugh. "He's getting me through it," she says.
Shirlee Allison knows how well Daniel can do that sort of thing. After she went home from the hospital, she ran a two-inch-by-one-inch ad in the Danville paper expressing her love for her grandson. She says, "Every morning I wake up, I get on my knees and thank two people: God and Daniel."