Sophomore Danny Thrall looks forward to competing next season.
Photo by Ken Levinson

“U Complete Me.”

One would expect that such a line on a male student’s cell phone wallpaper would be accompanied by a photo of someone near and dear; but on Danny Thrall’s phone, the line is superimposed on a photo of an artificial valve that completes his heart.

How’s that for literal translation?
It has to be daunting to have open heart surgery at age 19, but Thrall, a sophomore at Fordham College at Rose Hill, has not only survived the procedure, but is thriving, and is back in training with Fordham’s swim team.

The lean, six-foot-eight athlete came to Fordham last September, drawn by the excellent academics and the chance to compete on a Division I swim team. Before he had a chance to get his feet wet, doctors noticed that Thrall’s blood pressure was unusually high.

Tests revealed an enlarged aorta caused by a malfunctioning bicuspid valve, and verging on aneurism. Surgeons operated within weeks of the discovery.

“I always saw physical exams as kind of a pain, but obviously they do catch things,” said Thrall, who sat out last semester to recuperate. “I am definitely lucky.”

On Jan. 14, doctors cleared Thrall to join the swim team once more. Although it is nearing the end of the season, he said he is concentrating on gradually building up his strength, and looks forward to competing next season. His events are the 50 and 100-yard freestyle.

As a high school student at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, Thrall was a competitive swimmer who was named to an All-America team. He finds the sport of swimming exciting and challenging, and practices every day. “It’s a me vs. me kind of thing,” he says. “I like to see how far I can take it.”

Not to miss the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see his own heart, Thrall recorded the operation on videotape, as surgeons replaced his ascending aorta with a titanium mesh, and replaced the bicuspid valve with a mechanical one.

But there are other reminders, too. Gradually, Thrall’s strength is returning to him, and his distances are improving. And at night when all is quiet, he can hear the steady tick tick tick.

The beat is stronger, and more reassuring, than ever.


Janet Sassi is editor/associate director of internal communications. She can be reached at (212) 636-7577 or [email protected]