SIMSBURY -- They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That a single image can relay a person's essence, strength, determination, struggle. Danny Deitz knows it all, and his scar has a story.
Senior year at Simsbury High School is a time for friends, football, and fun. But through the eyes of this 18-year-old, that experience is more precious.
"I think I see life in a very special way that a lot of people my age don't get to see it," Danny said. "I realize how easily something could be taken away."
Two years ago, Danny was living the life of a normal teenager at Simsbury High.
"Danny is a very happy-go-lucky young man, very engaged in life," said Jeff Pinney, Simsbury High School’s Athletic Director.
"We all looked up toward Danny," said Alex Haggerty, Danny’s friend and teammate. An athlete, Danny like to compete, and excelled in football and lacrosse. But that spring something didn’t feel quite right.
"I was playing lacrosse at the time and I was just feeling really bad,” said Danny. “Out of breath, I was having trouble walking up the stairs."
An emergency visit to the hospital revealed a terrifying reality: Danny had an enlarged heart, a condition that if not caught in time can be fatal.
"It was a lot to take in at once,” Danny said.
At the time, his father Terry Deitz was competing on the show Survivor. He immediately left the show when he found out Danny was in the hospital. Meanwhile, his days were no longer spent in the classroom and on the field. Now, he was staring out of a window at Boston Children's Hospital. Doctors said his heart condition was genetic and the only remedy was a heart transplant. His hopes of playing football or any contact sport again were crushed.
"I had so many dreams for football,” said Danny. “I wanted to play in college. I wanted to see where I'd go at the next level."
"You don`t think that's going to happen," said Danny's friend Brendan Barnard. "Not to a sixteen year old kid. It was definitely a shock to all of us."
By his junior fall he was waiting for a new heart, and the day before he was heading back to school, the call came in.
"So my dad got it and basically he woke me up by running in my room, jumping on top of me, shaking me and just crying almost,” recalled Danny. From that point on, his drive to play football again only grew as he grew stronger.
Danny's doctors found themselves in an uncommon situation, could he really play again? All five of his doctors decided if he wore extra chest protection, he could.
Almost a year after his heart transplant, Danny took to the field at Simsbury High School once again. His new heart was ready to tackle new challenges.
"It was just very powerful for me to be back," said Danny.
He had to monitor his body, warming up before practices and cooling down after. But with careful monitoring it didn't take long before he was a star athlete once again.
"The whole crowd was chanting ‘Danny Strong’” said Brendan of his second game back. "When you are up there in the stands and you see the whole crowd chanting his name, and you see him take the field, there's no words for that.”
"When he scored that touch down literally, everyone just ran up and started hugging him. It was awesome,” said Alex.
"It certainly is something that none of us will ever forget,” said Pinney.
Now Danny is making sure his classmates know that deciding to become an organ donor is the ultimate gift.
"Danny is a great advocate for organ and tissue donation,” said Caitlyn Bernabucci with New England Donor Services. She said there is a critical need for donors, especially in Connecticut where only 46 percent of the state is registered to donate. The national average is 54 percent. Everyday 22 people die across the US waiting for an organ.
"Just one person can help change and improve the lives of over 75 people,” said Caitlyn.
Danny says he thinks about his donor, a fourteen-year-old boy from Pennsylvania, every day.
"I can't explain my gratitude to that person,” said Danny. “And I can't explain my gratitude to the family of the person.”
Danny’s now looking to his future, planning to attend college in San Diego. While he's shy and didn't want to talk much about it, he's also got a budding career in modeling, posing for big names like Sperry and Mercedes.
"I take every second for what it is and I just want to live every day to the fullest,” said Danny. “Future is brighter than ever."
You can also check out the “Danny Strong Fund” through Boston Children’s website.