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Danny Deitz and Nicole O'Donnell to receive Bob Casey Courage Awards from Connecticut Sports Wri

Recipients to be honored at 75th Gold Key Dinner on April 24

Simsbury High junior Danny Deitz and Lewis Mills senior Nicole O'Donnell have been selected as the Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance Bob Casey Courage Award winners.

Last June, Deitz, a football and lacrosse player at Simsbury High, was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, the enlargement of the heart. In September, he underwent a heart transplant at Boston Children's Hospital. Deitz spent more than 80 days in the hospital.

O'Donnell, a field hockey player for Lewis Mills, has recovered from major injuries sustained in a car crash on Aug. 19, 2015. O'Donnell was airlifted to Hartford Hospital after suffering a fractured pelvis, a lacerated liver, a collapsed lung and a concussion. Deitz and O'Donnell will be honored at the 75th Gold Key Dinner on Sunday, April 24 at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington.

The award is given in the memory of the late sportswriter of the New Haven Register and honors those who have overcome adversity.

Former welterweight boxing champion Marlon Starling, New England/Hartford Whalers owner and founder Howard Baldwin, 1960 U.S. Hockey Olympic gold medalist Bob McVey, Trinity College squash coach Paul Assaiante and longtime Greenwich High boys swimming coach Terry Lowe will receive Gold Keys at the dinner. Tickets to the 2016 Gold Key Dinner, which begins at 4 p.m., are $75 and can be purchased by contacting CSWA President Matthew Conyers of The Hartford Courant at 860-874-4166 or, or Vice President Tim Jensen of Patch Media Corp. at Tickets can also be obtained by mailing a check to the Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance, P.O. Box 70, Unionville, CT, 06085. A look at the Casey Award recipients:

Terry and Danny Deitz

Danny Deitz, right, and his father Terry at a recent Simsbury High football game. (Photo courtesy Collinsville

Danny Deitz (Simsbury) Deitz, a wide receiver on the football team and a long-stick defender in lacrosse, was diagnosed and treated for bronchitis last spring. But Deitz was still experiencing shortness of breath so x-rays were taken. Doctors found that Deitz had an enlarged heart.

After an echocardiogram was done in Glastonbury, Deitz was rushed by ambulance to the Connecticut Children's Medical Center. He was then transferred to Boston Children's Hospital and remained there for 39 days. It was discovered that Deitz had a genetic mutation that causes protein in his heart to attack itself.

"And it would never stop attacking my heart," Deitz told The Hartford Courant's Jeff Jacobs in September. "A transplant was going to happen no matter."

Deitz was sent home with a drug to increase his heart's contractility, but it didn't work. After a few weeks he had to return to Boston Children's for another 28 days because of kidney and liver trouble. He also had fluid in his lungs. During his second stay at Boston Children's, Deitz underwent open heart surgery and a left ventricular assist device called LVAD was implanted. About three weeks later, Deitz returned to Boston Children's Hospital and received a new heart on Sept. 10.

The Simsbury community rallied behind the Deitz family this spring. "Danny Strong" T-shirts were seen throughout the town to support Danny.

Nicole O'Donnell (22) in action for the Class S state champion Spartans in the fall of 2014. (Photo courtesy Jim Shannon, Waterbury Republican American)

Nicole O'Donnell (Burlington) On Aug. 19, O'Donnell was transported by helicopter to Hartford Hospital after a car crash. She spent the next 10 days in the hospital and underwent two surgeries to deal with her injuries, which included a fractured pelvis, a lacerated liver, a collapsed lung, a fractured joint in her left thumb and a concussion. After her time at Hartford Hospital, she spent two more weeks at Gaylord Specialty Hospital in Wallingford.

O'Donnell, who was a starting midfielder for Lewis Mills' state championship team in 2014, fractured her pelvis on both sides (in the ball joint of her hips and in her left femur). During surgery, she had plates and screws inserted to stabilize the pelvis and tighten attached ligaments. O'Donnell also had a rod inserted in her left femur.

O'Donnell didn't stand for 48 days because she couldn't bear any weight on her hips or her thighs, but in October she took her took her first steps again.

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