Editor’s note: This is part one of a three-part series on FBI special agent Daniel "Danny" Knapp. In this installment, Jason Wright details the risky sacrifice Knapp made for his brother. Read part two here and part three here.
For three weeks, I’ve spent hours researching an inspirational man from Las Vegas whom I’ve never met. I’ve exchanged emails, read personal letters, listened to audio recordings and chatted both over the phone and over good food with his family.
His name is Danny Knapp and I can’t wait to meet him someday face-to-face. And by the time this three-part series is complete, I’m confident you’ll want to meet him, too.
To appreciate this man’s story, you must know that Danny Knapp is a lifesaver. Not the clichéd lifesaver that covers your Sunday school class at the last minute because you’ve got a runny nose. Nor the type who loans you $5 for lunch when you realize you’re low on cash.
Perhaps he’s the one you call a “lifesaver” because he volunteered to tend your kids for three days while you and your spouse disappeared for a much-needed weekend away?
No, he’s not that kind either.
But yes, he’d probably do all those things, too. However, Knapp is the class of lifesaver who actually lives up to the label. He legitimately saves lives.
Knapp had a highly distinguished career with the FBI. It was a hard-won dream job for the man dedicated to God, family and country. Being a field agent brought him personal joy, professional satisfaction and countless opportunities to perform service in ways that never appear on triplicate reports or annual performance reviews.
In February of 2007, just two years into the job he’d worked so hard to win, Danny learned that one of his brothers, David Knapp, was suffering kidney failure. Running low on hope and options, and watching his wife approach a June delivery date of their second child, David often reached out to his four brothers for moral support. But what he soon needed was much more than a shoulder — he needed a kidney.
After a series of tests, the best match proved to be Danny, who was then stationed at the FBI office in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Doctors said the match was so close they could have been twins. But when Danny discussed the organ donation with his superiors, he was told that his career with the Bureau would likely be over. After the surgery, he’d be required to undergo a difficult battery of physical tests that would be nearly impossible to pass.
With the situation deteriorating and Danny thousands of miles away, he sent his mother an email to end the debate:
“I feel strongly about keeping the attention on Dave and off of me. I really don't want anyone telling me what a great thing I am doing. It makes me really uncomfortable. Dave is the one in trouble and the one who could die. I know I'll be OK. Plus, it’s nothing I have to think about much. I look at it as an opportunity to help Dave and a learning experience for me, so I already know I am getting a lot from this. The way I look at it is the more people praise me, the less I will be blessed from Heavenly Father because my reward would then be praise from men. Also, I have already been blessed so I don't expect anything additional.”
With his brother fading fast and his parents looking on, Danny put his own dreams and health at risk to donate a kidney and save his brother’s life. In the moments before the surgery, sporting matching hospital gowns, Danny joked and cheered his brother along, keeping the grave moment light and assuring everyone that all would be well.
As he was wheeled away into the operating room, David says his brother gave him a comforting, heavenly smile that he’ll never forget.
Hours later, David saw his brother’s smile again and the family learned that the surgery had been a tremendous success.
One month later, after willing himself through the rigorous tests, Danny beat the odds and resumed his work as an FBI agent in Puerto Rico.
Then in 2010, Danny was a key player in the largest police corruption sting in the FBI's 102-year history. In a single day, Operation Guard Shack netted 133 individuals, including 89 law enforcement officers in a two-year probe over police protection for drug dealers in Puerto Rico.
Danny’s role in the historic bust earned him the 2011 FBI Director’s Award for Outstanding Criminal Investigation and the 2011 Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement.
For most, the experience of saving a sibling's life and resuming a career at the highest level would have been the pinnacle of a good life well lived. But for humble Danny, a man who constantly deflected the spotlight to others, there was another miracle to come and a new life to save back on an island he'd learned to love.
In fact, Danny Knapp was just getting started.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters," and "The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance." He can be reached at [email protected] or jasonfwright.com.