Dan’s Recovery Discovery
For the record, at eight years of age, Dan battled and recovered from a malignant cancerous abscess in his throat, was stabbed in the upper chest and nearly cut off his left thumb. At ages nine and eleven Dan had two hernias. At twelve, he got hit square in the mouth with a pitch during a baseball game, which required root canals in his two front teeth. As a teenage athlete Dan broke his nose, jaw, both hands, thumbs, little fingers, left wrist, right arm, blew out patella tendons in both knees, tore the cartilage repaired in seven surgeries on both knees; broke his right clavicle requiring a 3-inch titanium screw, snapped his left Achilles tendon, and had his head sewn up eleven times. Then at age 22, when Dan’s lifelong dream of playing both professional football and baseball were alive and well, a devastating injury cut short his careers.
It was the first day of football practice and the coach started a tackling drill. From fifteen yards apart, Dan and a teammate ran into each other at full speed. With Dan’s head down, Lyle’s helmet violently hit Dan’s head, neck and right shoulder momentarily knocking him unconscious. When Lyle got off of him and Dan came to, his eye drooped, his right side was numb, he couldn’t talk and his arm dangled helplessly at his side.
According to a physician, Dan’s eye and slurred speech came from a severe blow to the head resulting in a concussion where the blood vessels in his brain were stretched and cranial nerves may have been damaged. Dan suffered some memory loss, but his sight and speech returned to normal within seconds. However, Dan had severed the axillary nerve in his right deltoid, which left his shoulder function useless, and cracked his seventh cervical vertebrae, which doctors didn’t discover until many months later.
Dan handled the day okay, but unbearable pain hit him that night in bed. He shook and profusely perspired and threw up, crying himself to sleep in a pool of self-pity and denial. Sometimes it takes months or years for a concussion to heal. Add to that the other complications and you can see why Dan spent time with Oakland Raiders world famous orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe, at Centinella Hospital in Inglewood, California, and underwent tests and therapy at Craig Rehabilitation Center in Denver, Colorado. Dan remained numb for more than a year and went to sixteen doctors, fifteen of whom projecting that Dan would never get any better.
The pain was so weird and devastating that the only way Dan has described it is that it felt like he had hit his crazy bone in his elbow, except that the intense burning and tingling ripped through his entire right side from his head to his toes. Yes it was a physical injury, but it affected Dan’s whole life. In a single moment, a freak accident took away Dan’s identity. Suddenly he was nobody to his coaches and nobody to his teammates or the fans that chanted his name. Even more devastating, he became nobody to himself.
Dan couldn’t write – he was right-handed. He couldn’t concentrate on work or education because it constantly felt like some wild animal was biting his neck and shoulder. He used to get electrical, shocking nerve impulses in his shoulder that would sporadically shake his arm like it was plugged into a light socket. One evening Dan was sitting with his family at dinner when his arm flipped out and knocked a bowl of mayonnaise off the table. The next morning his younger brother showed up to breakfast wearing goggles and a batting helmet! Needless to say Dan was afraid to go out in public, especially on a date, because his arm might cold cock her in the chops!!
Dan hit rock bottom, and life as he knew it was nowhere to be found. He thought football and baseball were who he was, and had not realized that sports were only what he did. In one moment, Dan was faced with the emotional pain of giving up his life’s dream and the identity he had grown up with. Outside, he was an athlete. Inside, he knew it was time to find a new game. In two months Dan went from bench-pressing over 400 lbs to barely pressing the 45 lb bar! So, how did Dan get better to now enjoy a 95% recovery?
First, one doctor, the sixteenth specialist – told Dan if he worked hard he could get well. His name was Dr. Brent Pratley, an extraordinary orthopedic surgeon who was on the cutting edge of technology and techniques, who made Dan laugh and hope, and who brought out his passion and imagination to do whatever he could think of that would help him get better.
Second, Dan had a small nucleus of great, positive friends who reminded him, “You can’t quit – it’s a league rule,” and to never let what he could not do interfere with what he could do.
Third, Dan was given a tape to listen to by another hero – Vice President Normand Gibbons of the University of Utah. The recording was by an internationally renowned motivational teacher named Zig Ziglar, who soon would become a personal friend and Dan’s sponsor into the National Speakers Association in 1982. Dan had never heard of him and thought his mom ran out of names! But out of curiosity he listened to the forty-five-minute speech, which literally kick started Dan’s inside-out recovery.
Fourth, Dan was introduced to a 6-foot-5, strong, sensitive, deeply spiritual Maori woman from New Zealand who took him in as one of her reflexology patients. Three times a week, for an hour each time, passionate and in-tune Ellie deeply massaged Dan’s hands, feet, and paralyzed right side. With surgical precision, she pushed and dug into the pressure points in Dan’s neck, shoulders, back, and head. Dan winzes and recalls, “Oh, baby, it hurt so good!”
On every other day from Ellie, Dan also went to a kinesiology-practicing, body-balancing, muscle-stimulating, cutting-edge chiropractor who did so much more than the proverbial “crack-the-back!” For the record, Dan has explained in interviews that he cannot say exactly what happened to him physiologically, but he can guarantee that his body did not respond to physical therapy or the suggestions from neurologists and orthopedic doctors until he had started holistic medicine; vitamin, mineral, and herbal remedies, reflexology, and advanced chiropractic treatments from Dr. Craig Buhler, in Kaysville, Utah, who is definitely one of the greatest, most knowledgeable, most respected, most effective, and true “healers” in the world.
Dan did not start to recover until he integrated allopathic medicine with the natural approach to healing. Dan absolutely loves, honors, respects and follows the advice of medical doctors. But with all do respect, although Dan’s orthopedic and neurosurgeon specialists have performed amazing surgeries on Dan’s broken body many times over the years, their talented and extraordinary work and prescribed medications did not heal Dan. They were the catalysts, but in reality, our bodies have to heal themselves. Being around practitioners of holistic medicine got Dan thinking about misconceptions surrounding depression and the remedy within him.
Getting better mentally and emotionally was a prerequisite to recovering physically, and Dan’s improvement began when he realized there is a huge difference between depression and disappointment – a giant difference between being depressed and being discouraged. Consequently, Dan started getting better physically and emotionally only when he started focusing on purposes instead of just setting goals; only when he stopped focusing on having fame and started focusing on being whole. As Dan shares in his speeches, he stayed paralyzed for over a year because he was asking the wrong questions. He was asking the doctors how to get better, when he should have been asking himself why he should get better. Once we answer why, figuring out the how is simple.
Focusing on how to get better set Dan up for failure because each doctor had a different theory, and the pain was so excruciating that quitting before fully recovering would have been easy and reasonable. Without sounding too dramatic, when Dan was injured, confused, and feeling alone in the dark, he discovered that it takes courage to leap into an abyss, whether for the thrill of adventure or to move from a situation that no longer works. It’s easier to hesitate, holding on to the familiar out of fear of the unknown. In the process we cling to people, positions, and possessions that are no longer sustaining. We seek a renaissance of spirit, a return to understanding that being is more important than having, and yet we lose our vitality by resisting the very steps that could help us create a dynamic and fulfilling life. Knowing How to get better wasn’t near enough information for Dan to recover.
When Dan got hurt playing ball, although he had the full support, prayers, and encouragement of his family and close friends, the one thing that fired him up and gave him reason and focus beyond his pain, disappointment, and discouragement was a letter from Al Davis, the owner and managing partner of the NFL Oakland Raiders, that was part of the package he received from Raiders Director of Player Personnel, Ron Wolfe. To this day, Mr. Davis remains one of Dan’s heroes. God rest his soul.
His letter to Dan simply acknowledged that he was a projected #1 draft choice into the NFL, that he felt Dan’s pain, complimented him on his extraordinary talent, leadership ability and character, which he was looking forward to taking advantage of to strengthen the team, expressed sadness that he was an “All-American in plaster,” and assured Dan that if he recovered he would get a shot at becoming the player he and Dan’s coaches expected he would be. Mr. Davis didn’t have to do this, but he did, and his letter turned out to be a moment of truth and life-altering event at a critical, emotional crossroads time that reminded Dan about the power of purpose. Dan’s life, direction, sense of self-worth, and revitalized discovery of a personal “why” changed because of this one man and his one letter.
Consequently, everyday Dan worked his guts out in rehab and at practice trying to come back and play at his previous level. And although all the feeling came back to his body except for in his right shoulder, the coaches were afraid that with a severely diminished shoulder muscle he would be permanently paralyzed if he got hit that hard again, and never won his starting job back. Dan’s reluctant retirement soon followed.
The good news is that Dan now shares with his audiences the lessons he learned: adversity introduces us to our selves; no one can know how great we can become until we are tested; pain is a signal to grow, not to suffer. Once we learn the lesson the pain is teaching us, the pain goes away; no matter what our past has been we have a spotless future. Boldly Dan proclaims that his paralyzing injury is one of the best things that has ever happened to him. No, the injury was not a good thing, but what he learned about himself and who he became as a man as a result of going through the setback is clearly one of the best things that has happened to him.