Citadel player DaSean Daniels: ‘Support has been overwhelming’ since collapse at practice

#48 DeSean Daniels is on the mend.

#48 DeSean Daniels is on the mend.

Photo by Marjorie Maxon

By Jeff Hartsell, Postandcourier.com

The row of staples starts near the front of DaSean Daniels’ skull, running back over the top of his head and behind his right ear to form a ‘C’. That’s where doctors cut out a piece of his skull to remove a blood clot that formed after a vein burst inside his head a week ago. “I’m getting a lot better every day,” Daniels said Monday while sitting up in bed in his room at Medical University Hospital. “I have headaches now and then, but that’s about the worst of it.”

Daniels, a freshman football player at The Citadel, remembers little about the March 10 practice when he collapsed and nothing about the two-hour emergency surgery he underwent that night. “I just remember waking up in the hospital and wondering what was going on,” said Daniels. The 21-year-old Daniels was facing the second fight for his life in two years. The 5-10, 220-pound fullback from Lawrenceville, Ga., had already survived a bout with bone cancer in 2013. Now, he faced a comeback from a life-threatening brain hemorrhage. “He’s the toughest guy I know,” said DaSean’s father, David Daniels. “The most resilient kid I know. I tell him these things only happen to a special person, because 90 percent of us would not make it through the things he has.”

Since collapsing near the end of a spring practice session last week, DaSean has advanced from critical to serious and then fair condition, moving out of intensive care at MUSC last Friday. He was able to listen to the Bulldogs’ spring game on Saturday via the internet. The windowsill in his hospital room is crowded with get-well cards, and his cell phone has been flooded with messages from well-wishers. “It’s been overwhelming,” DaSean said. “There are cards all over the place, a ton of visitors. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter have been blowing up, and it really means a lot.”

‘Dire circumstances’

Medical University neurosurgeon Dr. Alex Vandergrift performed the surgery on Daniels last Tuesday. “His recovery has been very good,” Vandergrift said Monday. “A lot of patients with this type of injury are in high-speed accidents or tremendous falls and have additional brain injury that is not present here. Gee whiz, he’s doing great. He came in under very dire circumstances, with pretty significant neurological dysfunction, so he’s a very fortunate young man.”

Vandergrift said DaSean had a “blood clot between the inside lining of his brain and the surface of the brain.” The size of the clot makes him believe that the injury was related to something that happened during practice that day. “It’s not the sort of thing that happens spontaneously,” the doctor said. “It’s usually reflective of a deceleration injury of some sort. With the size of the clot, it’s very reasonable to say that it was related to the activity that was going on that day. It was not something that could fester for a week or two or something like that.”

The timeliness with which DaSean was treated was key, Vandergrift said. “The athletic staff on the field did an excellent job in recognizing what was going on and getting him here in emergent fashion,” he said. “Our ER staff did a good job diagnosing the problem, and I happened to be in the hospital doing another operation. Our team was able to get him into the operating room quickly.” Said Citadel coach Mike Houston, “Things fell into line for DaSean that night, however you want to believe that happened. I have my opinion.”

‘Another hurdle’

While DaSean was in surgery, his mom and dad were making the long drive from Atlanta, knowing their son faced another life-threatening situation. “You’re just thinking, this kid has been through a lot, and now he has one more thing to get through,” said David Daniels. “That was the only thing I was thinking as a parent — here’s another hurdle for this kid, who does not deserve it.”

DaSean cleared his first hurdle in 2013, when he was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer that affects mostly young people. DaSean, then a linebacker, had played a season at the U.S. Naval Academy prep school with a discomfort on the left side of his torso. After the season, an MRI revealed a tumor on one of the ribs on his left side, and he underwent a course of chemotherapy. “The biggest thing was being told I might not be able to play again,” DaSean said. “But they told me from the beginning it was curable, so I never really had a doubt I would come through.”

The cancer prevented DaSean from returning to Navy, so he signed with The Citadel last year and redshirted last season. He moved to fullback this spring and was running with the first-team offense when he was injured. Since then, the family has been overwhelmed by the support they have received. “It means the world,” David Daniels said. “People I’ve never crossed paths with before have been coming by. The Citadel brotherhood is awesome. Graduates from as early as the Class of 1963 have come by and let us know he’s being thought of. We had a lot of visitors from Atlanta this weekend, and all his brothers from The Citadel, the cadets and players. It’s been a ton of support and it’s been awesome.”

DeSean's dad David

DeSean’s dad David

Now, DaSean faces a future that might not include football. Houston said DaSean’s place with the Bulldogs and at The Citadel remains secure, even if he does not play again. At mid-term, he’s got a 3.8 grade-point average with seven A’s and a B, majoring in business administration. “We’ll ensure that he’s taken care of,” Houston said. “He’ll have the opportunity to graduate from The Citadel and remain part of our program so that he retains all of our academic services.”

Meanwhile, DaSean will take the next steps on his road to recovery. Doctors are scheduled on Thursday to reattach the part of the skull they removed last week. “Then, hopefully, I’ll be out of here soon,” DaSean said. And then he’ll start the rest of his life — again. “From the beginning, my prayer has been that he’ll have the same options he had last Sunday, before this happened,” David Daniels said. “But no matter what, I know he’ll be a shining light for people who go through the same thing.”

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