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As he listens to it, he sometimes thinks about what he wants to do with his life.
"I'm definitely more appreciative," he says, "of everything."
The cardiologists aren't sure he'll be able to swim competitively again. He is a sprinter and the workouts are taxing. But his surgeon thinks it's possible, especially with a repaired heart that pumps blood much more efficiently than it did before.
"I think he'll be able to get back to it as long as he takes his time building himself up and allows his body to recover completely," says Dr. Jai Raman, Thrall's heart surgeon at the University of Chicago Medical Center. "It's amazing what the human body can do to heal itself."
Thrall is quick to note that other elite athletes have had open heart surgery, too, among them NBA players Etan Thomas and Ronny Turiaf. Both have gone on to play again.
Whether it's worth the risk is another question.
But for Thrall, swimming is more than sport. As a child, his mom says, he struggled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a learning disability. "Swimming," she says, "has been Dan's saving grace."
It motivated him, for instance, to earn a 3.6 grade-point average at Lynn University in Florida his freshman year, so he could get into Fordham to swim.
That discipline has continued in his recovery.
He now trains in the pool nearly every day and has already seen a marked improvement in what he can do. In January, he will return to Fordham and hopes to practice with his teammates, even if he can't compete this season.
His doctors will monitor him. And if his heart does well, he may be able to compete in his junior and senior years.
"I just want to see how far I can push my body, in a sense -- to see how far I can take it," Thrall says. "I just feel like I have more."
He likes to tell people he's like the Grinch from the Dr. Seuss Christmas tale, whose heart grows when he learns the true meaning of Christmas.
"I think I know why my aorta dilated so much," he says with a wry smile. "I should've never given all the Whos down in Whoville their presents back."
Truth is, the first thing he told his parents when he woke up from the surgery is that he didn't want any presents for his 20th birthday, little more than a month after the October procedure.
"This was an awesome present. Don't get me anything. I'm completely fine," he told them. Instead, he and his dad hand-delivered a Wii game system to the children's hospital at the University of Chicago (though he wouldn't want anyone to know that).
He also refused to give his mom any ideas for Christmas gifts.
"I'm just really happy to be alive," he says. "And that is enough."
On the Net:
Fordham sports: http://fordhamsports.cstv.com/
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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