Daniel Norris may be a peewee on the baseball field, but he's a major leaguer in the hearts of physicians and nurses at Holy Cross Hospital.
There, specialists perform laser surgery every two weeks to remove life-threatening polyps on the youngster's vocal cords.Knowing that the 4-year-old would rather be playing baseball, his nurses Thursday did the next best thing: They invited members of the Salt Lake Trappers baseball team to the hospital to help celebrate Danny's upcoming fifth birthday.
The players scored a big win.
As his anesthesia wore off, Danny found his bed covered with pennants, autographed balls, posters, hats, miniature bats and other Trappers memorabilia.
Adding to his heaven-on-earth celebration was a shiny black leather mitt - a special gift from the medical team, his greatest fans.
The team, under the direction of Dr. Richard W. Nielsen, has been treating Danny since March when the cause of his breathing problems was first diagnosed. His rare condition - recurrent juvenile laryngeal papilloma - results in small growths around his voice box, preventing him from talking and breathing normally.
The polyps, thought to be caused by a virus, are not treatable by any vaccine. Surgery is the only treatment. But in Danny's case, it's by no means a cure.
Because the reoccurring polyps are spreading down his trachea, Nielsen will now operate weekly to prevent their expansion into Danny's lungs. That could cause premature death.
Between surgeries, Danny receives interferon shots three times a week at the physician's Salt Lake office. Nielsen's hope is that the new drug will effectively treat the polyps.
"In some cases it has been remarkable, but Danny has been on it only five weeks so it's too soon to tell," the ear, nose and throat specialist said.
"His polyps could continue into puberty - or longer."
Danny has handled the traumatic ordeal like a pro.
"He has been really great," said Raelyn Norris, the child's mother. "One thing about him being so young is that he doesn't understand that this could really get dangerous."
Although he makes it clear that he doesn't like surgery, "he still comes and doesn't kick and scream. He doesn't fight me on it."
Ironically, the brown-eyed, all-American kid was the healthiest of the West Valley couple's three children.
"He's the one who eats all the good things. He turns down candy and cake a lot sooner than he will a salad," Raelyn Norris said.
And he's always been a whiz on the baseball field. Although too young to be on a peewee team, Daniel was sneaked into the game by his father/ coach, Kenneth Norris.
The tiny right fielder "can hit the ball farther than the 7-year-olds," his proud dad bragged. "He's the best batter on the team. But because he's so small he can't throw very far, and he can't run very fast because his legs are so short.
"But, boy, can he whack the ball. If he were as big as his brother, he could hit a home run. But a long hit to Danny is a single."
After each surgery, a weakened Danny is still eager to hit the playing field. Between his games, the family is at Derks Field watching the Trappers.
That's where he'll spend his birthday, as a guest of the professional team.
"He's an adorable child and puts up with this really well," Nielsen said. "Everyone here (at Holy Cross) is in love with him."
That was evident Thursday by the cake (decorated like a baseball field), balloons, and $100 savings bond presented to Danny by his physicians and nurses at his unforgettable birthday bash.