Daniel Trush's incredible journey inspires hope
Fourteen years ago, Daniel Trush lay in a coma. Days before, the 12-year-old had collapsed in his father's arms after taking a shot during a basketball game. The headaches that had been dismissed by doctors as migraines turned out to be five brain aneurysms, including one that had ruptured.
As his parents, Ken and Nancy, prayed by his bedside, doctors tried everything to control the bleeding in Daniel's brain. Nothing worked. Doctors had told the Trushes that their beloved son, a musician and athlete, had gone from bad to worse. They told Ken, "Get your wife to say goodbye."
With the bleeding in Daniel's brain still unabated and the cranial pressure unsustainable, a doctor recommended a last-ditch procedure: a lumbar drain.
"There was no decision to be made," Ken recalled. "We said go ahead."
The procedure worked. Daniel's cranial pressure finally stabilized. But he remained in a coma for 30 days, his father keeping vigil by his bedside.
"People don't realize what it is when you say 30 days in a coma," Ken said. "Anyone that wants to see how it feels, just take one hour and sit in a room with beeping going on. And then multiply that by 24 and then multiply that by 30. And then have people walking in and out shaking their head. I slept in his room for 30 days."
Remarkably, 14 years after emerging from the coma, Daniel, a lifelong Yankees fan, walked on to the stage at the Brooks Atkinson Theater in New York City for his Broadway debut Monday. As part of the New York Yankees HOPE (Helping Others Persevere and Excel) Week initiative, Daniel was joined on stage by more than 100 members of a foundation that bears his name, Daniel's Music Foundation, and several Yankees, including Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Chris Dickerson and Francisco Cervelli, as well as former Yankee Bernie Williams.
The Yankees receive thousands of applications and nominations for inclusion in HOPE Week, now in its third year of honoring extraordinary people and organizations for their commitment to community.
Daniel, now 27, and the foundation that bears his name would not be here today without the power of music. And if not for Daniel's inspiration and the tireless efforts of his family -- his parents and brother Michael -- who founded Daniel's Music Foundation, more than 150 disabled and physically and mentally challenged children and adults would not be healing through the power of music.
Faith, hope and music played a critical role in Ken's bedside vigil. Gloria Estefan's "Reach" album was the soundtrack of choice. Ken played the entire album countless times, but focused primarily on two songs, the title track and "I'm Not Giving You Up."
Ken also believed in the power of the lyrics and thought perhaps they were getting through to his son. He was right. Months later, when Daniel was awake and at home, the Trushes put the "Reach" CD on the stereo. Daniel couldn't speak, but he started mouthing the words to the songs that were so familiar to him.
"You can say I love you to someone and those are words, but music has a way of expressing that much more fluidly and eloquently," Ken said. "So I could say, 'Daniel, I love you and I'm going to stay with you the whole time,' but if I play that song that says I'm not giving you up, there's an emotional feeling that goes with that. So I played those songs over and over, and it was as much for me as it was for him."
At one point, Daniel weighed 65 pounds -- a "bag of bones," according to his father -- and was incapacitated, unable to walk or talk. Though he was stable and awake, the former basketball player, guitar and trumpet player had suffered brain damage as a result of lack of blood and oxygen to his brain. He had a long road ahead of him. He left the hospital in a wheelchair, still unable to walk following a 341-day stay.
But Daniel, an energetic young man with an infectious personality and a wicked sense of humor, carried a never-give-up attitude into his rehabilitation and recovery.
He underwent five therapies, including physical, occupational and speech. While responding and making progress -- he took his first steps after two years in a wheelchair -- his parents knew there must be something else they could do to help their son. Remembering the importance of music to Daniel before the injury and while he was in a coma, the Trushes decided to introduce music to their son's recovery process as well.
"We tried everything," Ken said. "When you're trying to help a person, you're going to try anything that will work. He just gravitated to music."
But Daniel would have to find a new instrument.
"I couldn't play the guitar anymore because I only have full use of my right hand," Daniel said. "The doctors were afraid that if I tried to play the trumpet again the pressure would burst the remaining aneurysms, so that wasn't a good idea. So that's why I took up the keyboard."
Weekly lessons started in 1999 with John Marino, who would go on to become the first instructor at Daniel's Music Foundation. After a while, informal "jam sessions" morphed into actual instruction. Daniel's weekly sessions with Marino continue to this day.
Inspired by Daniel's recovery through music and learning to play the keyboard, and believing that there was a need for this type of education, his family started Daniel's Music Foundation in 2005. The not-for-profit organization based in New York City's Upper East Side provides free musical instruction -- from guitar to keyboard to percussion and voice -- to anybody over the age of 3. In just six years, DMF, funded entirely by donations, has gone from one class with five members to 26 classes with more than 150 members and a waiting list.
Daniel is not only the co-founder, but he's a member and now an assistant instructor, helping others follow in his footsteps on the road to recovery and reentry into society.
"Playing the keyboard helps my recovery by bringing me joy," Daniel said. "And it is a lot of fun."
Nadine McNeil, a breast cancer survivor who also has survived two strokes, is a DMF success story. Nadine, a member who takes keyboard and voice lessons, also serves as the program coordinator at DMF. Her son Tyler, who is autistic, also is a member. Daniel has been Nadine's inspiration.
"Together we can do anything," Nadine told the audience of friends, family and former HOPE Week honorees. "Daniel plays one part with his right hand [on keyboard], and I play the other part with my left hand. Together we are whole."
The same year that Daniel's Music Foundation was established, Daniel told his father he had another goal: to complete the New York City Marathon. With the assistance of the Achilles Track Club for disabled athletes, Daniel and Ken began to train together in 2005 through a combination of walking and using a hand-crank wheelchair.
"I would hand crank the straightaways and the downhills," Daniel said. "And I would walk uphill."
In 2007, after a strict seven-month, five-days-a-week training regimen, the two completed the race in seven hours and 45 minutes.
On Monday, Daniel's remarkable journey continued. The day started with the Broadway show, which featured songs ranging from Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" to the Backstreet Boys' "Larger Than Life" to a show-stopping finale of "New York, New York." The honoree also performed "Daniel's Thank You Song," which he co-wrote with DMF instructor Jerry Powers, accompanied by Bernie Williams on guitar.
The dream day continued with Daniel joining Paul Cartier for a pregame session on the Yankee Stadium organ. Daniel's Music Foundation was awarded the President's Volunteer Service Award before the Yankees-Mariners game and performed the national anthem. The day ended with the Trush family celebrating on the field with the Yankees after the team's 10-3 win over Seattle.
"I was in total shock," Daniel said while smiling from ear to ear. "I could not believe it. It was absolutely amazing."
Monday's event extended beyond the current Yankees family to former players and even former rivals. John Olerud, who played with the Blue Jays, Mets, Mariners, Yankees and Red Sox during a 16-year major league career, was on hand to take in the show.
Olerud, who suffered a brain aneurysm while a senior at Washington State in 1989, went on a hospital visit in 1997 when he played for the Mets. One of the aneurysm patients he met that day was a 12-year-old boy named Daniel Trush.
The two forged a connection so strong that Daniel actually rooted for the Mets during the three years Olerud played for the Yankees' crosstown rivals. Through a happy coincidence, Olerud had planned a family trip to New York City for the Mariners-Yankees series at Yankee Stadium this week and was able to attend the concert.
"It's definitely is an inspiration to everybody," Olerud said. "Life can deal you some rough stretches. ... And to have that type of setback, you can only imagine the amount of perseverance that he's had to go through to get to where he is today. I'm sure it wasn't an easy road by any means, and I just think it says a lot about Daniel and his family for what they have been able to accomplish with this foundation."
For more information on Daniel Trush and Daniel's Music Foundation, please visit its website.