Daniel Parker’s love of life, his family and his spiritual faith have never been this strong.
And a few of his very close friends have wondered why, as the former Examiner Offensive Player of the Year and current University of Missouri tight end nearly lost his right eye to an infection that resulted in four major surgical procedures.
After five months of lingering doubt, including two months of dealing with double vision and the type of pain that brought Parker to his knees, the Blue Springs High School graduate regained full vision in the eye last week.
"After one of the surgeries, they told me I may not be able to see again," Parker said from his family’s apartment in Blue Springs. "They said I might not be able to play football again.
"And I put everything in the hands of God. The surgeons had done their job, my family and friends had been praying, and now it was all up to God."
Some of his friends questioned his decision to turn his life over to God, especially since he had been going through hell on earth with all the medical procedures that began one January morning in Blue Springs.
"My friends asked, ‘How could God let this happen?’" Parker said, as his brother Jackson played a video game across the room and his mother Jennifer sat by her son.
"My life was moving a little too fast – a lot too fast – and I think this was God’s way of telling me to slow down.
"If this wouldn’t have happened, I don’t really know where my life would be right now. It gave me a chance to look at my life and realize just how blessed I am."
Rush for surgery
Parker woke up in the middle of Saturday night on Jan. 4, with a severe toothache.
"He was home from school and he woke us up and said his tooth hurt so much he couldn’t stand it," Jennifer said. "So we found an emergency dentist and took him there and he had a root canal.
"But the dentist said there was a lot of infection and to keep an eye on it."
A day later, Parker was in the Centerpoint Medical Center Emergency Room, starting a 36-hour journey that was just the first stepping stone in saving his eye.
"The pressure in his eye was way, way up and the flu outbreak was so bad they didn’t have any hospital beds," Jennifer said, "so we were in the ER for one and a half days and I was afraid that Daniel might lose his eye – or worse.
"He eventually had nasal surgery and they had to cut away his eyelids to relieve the pressure. They found three different (types of) bacteria and it was a race to save his eye."
Parker was awake during the initial surgery, and winces at the memory.
"Before they started, they told me, ‘You can cuss if you want, and you’ll probably want to,’ because I was awake when they were doing this," he said. "I asked my mom to leave the room – it was bad, real bad."
Parker was transferred to Research Hospital, where Dr. Matthew Sniegowski performed a surgical procedure that saved his eyesight.
"They had to cut around my eye and put a tube in my eye to drain away fluid and reduce the pressure," Parker said. "It was bad, you know, anything dealing with your eye."
When he woke up from the surgery, the first person he saw was new Missouri tight ends coach Casey Woods, who made a perilous trip – through a snowstorm – to check on the young man he had never met.
"I was going to Kansas City to catch a flight to Nashville for a convention," Woods said. "A snowstorm turned into a blizzard, and I was hit by an 18-wheeler that jackknifed on the highway outside of Odessa."
The coach suffered a minor whiplash, but continued his journey as he caught a ride with the tow truck driver to Oak Grove.
"My roommate from college lives in Leawood, Kansas, and I called him and he said he could get me to the hospital to see Daniel," Woods said. "So I was lucky enough to get a ride to Blue Springs from the guy working the cash register in Oak Grove and we went to Blue Springs, where I met my roommate and we went to the hospital."
Parker will never forget his first visit with Coach Woods.
"Man, I knew he was special to come all the way from Columbia to see me," Parker said, grinning.
Jennifer nodded in agreement.
"That was the first time I met Daniel, and I knew if he could make it through all that, he was very special, and so is his family," Woods said.
Following the surgical procedures, Parker experienced double vision, and doctors said they had no idea when it might go away.
"I had this prism on my glasses to help me see just one figure, but I saw two of everything," Parker said. "Then last week, I was back in Columbia, playing a video game with a friend, and all of a sudden, I just saw one image.
"The double vision was gone. And now, my eyesight is back to where it was before. It’s all pretty amazing, a real miracle."
As Parker talks about his restored vision, Jennifer squeezes his hand, the way only a mother can.
He can now smile when recounting the nightmarish five months of surgical procedures, surgery and love of family and friends.
"There were a lot of special moments, like when I woke up from one surgery and (Blue Springs South alum and former Missouri teammate) Kendall Blanton and his father were there," Parker said. "My mom was always there, and so was my Nana (Jackie Turner), who works two jobs. And of course Coach Woods."
Jennifer believes the Lord works in mysterious ways, and counts her blessings despite what her son has been through.
"I prayed and told the Lord I would trade my eyesight for Daniel’s," she said. "We all prayed, and now, his eyesight is back."
Parker had one final surgical procedure last week to reattach an eyelid, and now he is hoping to play football for the Tigers and new head coach Eliah Drinkwitz this fall.
"I don’t know what’s going to happen with football, with the coronavirus pandemic and my eye and all," Parker said, "but I know one thing – life is good, and I am truly blessed."