Dalton Igoe rests in a Pittsburgh hospital bed, just weeks after undergoing a heart transplant. The son of Scott and Dawn Igoe of Altoona is a few miles from PNC Park and Heinz Field, the homes of two of his favorite teams.
Like many teenagers, Dalton, 15, has a passion for sports, and especially baseball. He remembers playing the game as a child in a coach-pitch league, and regrets being forced to hang up his glove for his own safety. Dalton was born with a congenital heart defect, and the risk of injury was too great to allow him to continue playing the game he loves.
Still, Dalton has stayed close to sports, managing the Altoona junior high basketball team, coaching his little brother in Little League, and even landing a summer job with the Altoona Curve. All the while, Dalton smiles, gives every task his all, and never hesitates to share his remarkable story with others.
Dalton Igoe gets a visit from Pittsburgh Pirates star Andrew McCutchen.
That may be why Dalton finds that athletes are drawn to him; they can appreciate what it means to overcome obstacles and know the power of a positive attitude.
At the age of 8, Dalton was granted a wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and met NASCAR Champion Jeff Gordon. Then he told his story at a charity fundraiser, and was gifted Penn State football tickets and the chance to meet Joe Paterno, Tom Bradley and Tamba Hali.
Even Ben Roethlisberger was impressed with Dalton, who met the Steelers Quarterback at the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame banquet. Big Ben offered Igoe words of encouragement and a chance to wear a very special piece of memorabilia.
"Ben signed my football," said Dalton. "Then he pulled his Super bowl ring out of his pocket and put it on my finger, and we got our picture taken together. The ring was heavy!"
Not long after that meeting, the Igoe family got the call, that there was a heart for Dalton.
A few days after the transplant surgery, another superstar turned up: Pirate outfielder Andrew McCutchen walked into Dalton's hospital room. He'd been told about the teen by multiple Curve fans who knew McCutchen when he played in Altoona. The All-Star spent more than an hour visiting with Dalton, gave him a home run bat among other gifts, invited him to a future ballgame, and even wore one of the "Rock Dalton's Beat" red fundraiser wristbands during a televised Pirate game.
The visit lifted Dalton's already high spirits, but undoubtedly also left an impression on McCutchen himself. That's the way Dalton is. Smiling through all of the tough times, he invites everyone else to experience his inexplicable optimism.
"Keep your eye on the big prize at the end," said Dawn Igoe, Dalton's Mom. "That's what Andrew was saying, just encouraging Dalton and spending some time with him."
Dalton also befriended Curve catcher, Tony Sanchez, who still texts Dalton from AAA Indianapolis. The Curve sent Igoe his very own autographed jersey, which he wore in the hospital with pride.
In spite of living under the cloud of a congenital heart defect, the Igoe family clings to the silver lining:
"Instead of thinking of the things he can't do, we try to think about the things he did do with his heart, like meet Jeff Gordon and Joe Paterno and raise money for Make-a-Wish," said Dawn. "If Dalton hadn't had the heart problems, would we have had those experiences?"
There is still a long road ahead for Dalton as he gains strength and looks forward to returning to Altoona and a normal life. His ultimate wish is to play baseball again, and be part of the team.
"I think it will feel amazing," he said, "knowing I can finally play sports with all my friends, and be on the field rather than in the dugout or in the stands just watching."
Dawn added: "The first 15 years with the old heart were okay, but the next 15 years will be even better. I don't know if I'll be able to keep up with him."
It's common in sports to speak of an athlete's heart: that inner drive that allows a player to pursue excellence while also inspiring those around him. Ironically, Dalton has been forced into the role of spectator because of his heart, but through all of the challenges of life, he has persevered, pursuing his dreams while inspiring everyone who meets him, even some of professional sports' biggest stars.
With his old heart or his new one, one thing is certain, Dalton's is the heart of a champion.