Social work

Brain surgery survivor finds call to social work

Daniel Bell stood proudly from the center seat of the Texas Rangers baseball stadium on a warm evening in mid-August 2021. He went there to watch one of his favorite baseball players, who had just been transferred at the visiting Oakland Athletics.

He didn’t expect anyone to notice as he held his handmade sign: “I survived 3 brain surgeries to watch Josh Harrison play!”

But a few people noticed it. They asked, “Is this real? Another viewer said, “Congratulations! Glad you’re here with us!”

Bell, 28, thought maybe Harrison would wave or give a thumbs up – if he noticed the sign. But being at the game was a personal victory after a grueling series of medical procedures. And in May 2022, more than a year after fighting for his life, Bell earned a master’s degree in social work from Binghamton University.

For Bell, a Washington, D.C.-area native, this degree puts him on the desired career path to help others deal with medical issues just as upsetting and harrowing as the one he’s spent his life dealing with.

As a child, Bell was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, which results in a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid. It’s incurable, and for most of his life, neurosurgeons kept the condition at bay by implanting a specialized device that allows his cerebrospinal fluid to drain normally.

Bell’s challenges, both medical and academic, helped shape his career ambition. He wants to become a social worker in hospitals, preferably in an intensive care unit. He says it’s a way to give back to the healthcare workers whose work led to the degree.

During his time in the hospital for the surgeries he underwent in 2021, Bell learned how to defend himself as a patient.

“I kept thinking I’m perfectly good at defending myself,” Bell says, “but how many people are in similar positions and have no way of knowing what questions to ask or have no one to listen to them? “

In late May 2021, Bell was home when abdominal and neck pain forced him to spend the night in a hospital emergency room. What he learned from the doctors was that the device that was managing his condition was no longer working.

Tests revealed that the device, known as the shunt, had been infected.

The shunt had been repaired in January 2021, after being in place for 13 years, marking his first surgery that year. After the infection was discovered, he underwent two surgeries between May and June 2021. Prior to these three surgeries, he had not required any surgery for his condition since 2008.

Bell’s passion for baseball kept his spirits up for long weeks in the hospital – at one point he was hospitalized for 17 days. He watched baseball games from his hospital bed, but he was also determined to keep up with all of his class work.

Bell teachers were flexible. They gave him extensions on missions as needed. During that semester, he says, “my body was fighting me all the time.”

“If I was pausing school, I would be pausing the work that needs to be done standing alongside those who don’t feel like they have a voice. I would be pausing a passion that I have for a long time,” Bell says. “I knew I couldn’t stop, because I was given all this help.”

Motivation to complete her degree had also been fueled by the response to her photo from that baseball game in Texas. When he sent this photo to an MLB.com reporter, he noted, “Josh missed the game.”

Later, the reporter replied, “I’ll make sure he sees it.”

By the next morning, Bell’s Twitter profile had received some 300 notifications.

One of them, a message from MSM Sports, said something was coming.

In October 2021, it arrived: a signed shirt from Harrison, along with a letter from the player’s agent. He invited Bell to a game in the 2022 season, and possibly bring him on the field for batting practice.