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Danny's story: Heaven's little policeman

Being different from other children never stopped Danny or his family

Throughout my police career I joined a number of law enforcement organizations. One of the organizations to which I belong is the Shields of Long Island, a fraternal group of police officers who live on Long Island and work for many different police departments. The Shields have six dinner meetings a year. At each meeting, there is an officer of the month award, as well as a guest speaker

I needed to find a speaker for the December meeting, and I was fortunate to find John Carlsen. At that time, John was a Deputy Inspector with the Nassau County (New York) Police Department. He and his wife, Kathleen, had a son named Danny. 

John came to the Shields meeting because he had a story to tell — a story about Danny.

Danny’s Story
Danny was a unique child. Prenatal ultrasound showed a condition named hydrocephalus — commonly referred to at the time as “water on the brain.” There were suggestions made to terminate the pregnancy. After a great deal of discussion, prayer, and tears, Kathleen and John said no — they would have their child and love him no matter what.

On June 6, 1983, Danny was born. Not only did he have hydrocephalus, but he also had spina bifida. 

Within an hour of his birth, Danny underwent dangerous surgery. 

Danny wasn’t expected to survive the surgery, but he did. Doctors said he would never walk or talk. 

Kathleen and John never gave up hope, and their prayers were answered.

He grew up to be a loving, wonderful child. Danny went to school. He had many friends. None of his friends looked at Danny as being handicapped — Danny just used special equipment to get around, and get around he did. He competed in the New York State Games for the Physically Challenged, and did so for six years — winning more than 20 gold medals. 

Danny also became a Youth Ambassador for March of Dimes. He was a natural for the job, having a warm smile and the gift of gab. He was a born politician. Helping the March of Dimes was important to Danny. Every time his photo appeared in the paper, he called his father at work and said “Hey, Dad, I'm famous again!”

Danny’s Dream
Being different from other children never stopped Danny or his family. He and his parents did everything other families do. They went to baseball games. They visited Disneyworld. They even toured the Great Smoky Mountains by helicopter. Danny was so well known and well liked that in 1994, his community invited him to be the official lighter of the village Christmas tree.

Danny endured many surgeries during his childhood. He seemed to give strength to the people around him. He had an amazing sense of humor and a quick wit. At the same time, he was sensitive. He wasn't embarrassed if hugged and kissed in front of his friends. 

As John said, Danny was one of a kind. 

Danny visited his father and the officers assigned to the bureau. Danny loved police officers, and the officers enjoyed his visits. Like many kids, Danny wanted to be a cop. At home, Danny would write his own police reports about the activities in the neighborhood. He told his parents when he grew up, he was going to be a police officer.

This troubled John and Kathleen. As Danny grew up, they always encouraged him to do his best, that he could be anything he wanted to be. After all the encouragement they had given their son, how could they tell him that the one thing he really wanted to be was beyond his reach?

Danny’s Eyes
One day in August 1995, Danny woke up with what appeared to be a cold. His parents looked after him that morning. 

John was sitting on the bed with Danny when Danny stopped breathing. He had developed myocarditis. His parents called 911 and Danny’s heroes — the police — responded. They came with their patrol cars and ambulances. John gave his son CPR, the officers helped. 

They rushed Danny to the hospital. Doctors did their best, but to no avail. If you ever tried to save a child's life and lost, you know the anguish. Few people know the agony of trying to save their own child, and losing that battle.

As devastated as they were, John and Kathleen decided to let Danny give the gift of sight to people in need. Doctors harvested his corneas and sent them to other hospitals.

At the funeral John and Kathleen were amazed to see how many people loved Danny. More than a thousand people attended his wake. Everyone came to pay their respects — friends and relatives, school bus drivers, teachers, and of course, his police officers, all came to say their goodbyes.

The day of Danny’s funeral he received full police honors. Members of the emergency services were his pallbearers. There were rows of police cars outside the church. Officers stood at attention and saluted while bagpipes played. School crossing guards stood in formation. Motorcycles escorted the procession to the cemetery where an honor guard waited for Danny — mounted officers, and his friends from emergency services. Officers saluted and cried at the same time. 

John and Kathleen wanted to share Danny with the people who received his eyes. They contacted the eye bank and asked for a meeting. After a while, a letter arrived. One of the recipients wanted to meet them. He wanted to thank them for allowing Danny's cornea to be donated, and giving him the gift of sight. Kathleen and John wanted to let this young man know what a wonderful child Danny was. 

When they met this man — Ray — they realized once again, God and Danny work in mysterious ways. Ray was about to lose the sight in one eye due to an infection. Danny's cornea saved not only Ray's sight, but his job as well. The job Ray was able to keep? New York City police officer. 

Danny finally got the job he always wanted. 

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