SARASOTA — Fifteen-year-old Daniel Oakley is a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.
The Sarasota Military Academy sophomore understands the importance of living life to the fullest. After all, everything can change in an instant. Daniel and his family are living proof of that.
When Daniel’s mother, Shannon Oakley, was seven months pregnant with him, she was involved in a near-death accident. She and her unborn child were pronounced dead, before the pair showed just how hard they were willing to fight for life.
“I definitely believe in miracles,” Daniel says. “I think God did it for a reason. Your whole life can be altered in a second. People take life for granted. Nobody is invincible.”
It was March 30, 1997, and Shannon Oakley and her best friend were traveling home from Tampa that morning when the two were involved in a car accident.
The truck they were in flipped several times across I-75, and Shannon Oakley was ejected from the vehicle. She was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital where she was put on life support.
Shannon Oakley suffered a stroke, partial paralysis on her left side, a broken back and brain damage as a result of the accident. Doctors initially pronounced Shannon Oakley and her son dead.
“They asked me if I had a choice what I wanted them to do,” Daniel’s grandmother, Michelle Oakley, said. “I said, ‘you’re going in with two, and you’re coming out with two.’”
She underwent an emergency Caesarean, but there was a possibility she and her unborn son wouldn’t make it through the surgery.
Daniel was stillborn, weighing 3 pounds, 12 ounces. He was immediately put on life support and taken to the NICU while his mother was taken down to ICU.
Daniel remained on life support for about a week before things took a positive turn. He remained in the NICU for six weeks before he was eventually released.
However, it would be several months before Daniel would be reunited with his mother, who spent two weeks in a coma and another seven weeks in the hospital before undergoing inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation for the next four years.
“You can’t change the past,” Shannon Oakley says. “You can only (focus) on what lies ahead and make it better.”
Daniel did not learn the extent of the near-death accident for several years.
Daniel, who suffered no ill effects from the accident aside from one trip to the physical therapist for stiff muscles, turned his attention to soccer when he was 4 years old. He quickly developed a passion for the sport and has been using soccer as a motivational outlet ever since.
“It’s just fun,” Daniel says. “It’s just something I like to do. I like to compete and go against and beat other people.”
In sixth grade Daniel began playing for the Imagine School of North Port, for which he was a two-time captain before transferring to Sarasota Military Academy at the beginning of the school year. This season, Daniel has helped the Eagles surpass their win total from a season ago, including a 9-1 victory over his former team Nov. 19, with half of the season still left to play.
“He’s a good leader on the team,” coach Fredrik Sandstrom says. “He’s brought a lot to the team.”
Daniel is an honor student at SMA this year and has his sights set on earning a scholarship to play collegiate soccer with the hope of pursuing a career in the Air Force or Navy.
In addition to playing soccer, Daniel is part of the North Port Police Explorers and already has earned his private rank at SMA with the hopes of eventually making sergeant.
“It’s something I’ve just always wanted to do — serving the country,” says Daniel, whose grandfather was a pilot in the Air Force. “I feel like they gave us our freedom and we should give something back.”
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.