When Lional Dalton got the phone call at about 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 25 that he had a kidney waiting for him, he couldn't hold onto his tough-guy football demeanor anymore.
"Let me tell you the truth. I actually started crying," he said.
He cried for two reasons. Obviously, there was joy. He was diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure in January of 2020 and been on debilitating dialysis ever since. He had been waiting for a kidney for a long time.
The other part was sadness. His kidney was coming from a 17-year-old kid who had gotten into a car accident. Before he died, his parents decided to have their child's kidney donated.
"My family was celebrating. But the fact that it was a young man, 17 …" Dalton said, trailing off. "I wish I could meet his family, but it's up to them to reach out to me. I would love to hug his mother and thank her."
Dalton threw as many clothes as he could into a suitcase, finally got ahold of his mother (she was sleeping), dropped off his two young daughters with her, and took the first flight from Atlanta to Baltimore with his wife, Tiffany, the next morning. His surgeon called to explain the procedure as he was on his way to the airport.
The faster the donated kidney gets into its new body, the better the marriage will be. There can be a lot of complications from transplants, so time was of the essence. He was scheduled for surgery about five hours after arriving at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, the same place where so much of his life's greatest moments had taken place.
Dalton signed with the Ravens as an undrafted rookie in 1998 and played four seasons in Baltimore. He was part of a dominant run-stopping unit on the greatest defense of all-time, which led the Ravens to their first Super Bowl victory in 2001. Now he was back in Baltimore to get a second lease on life.
"I can't think of a better place," Dalton said. "I have so many memories in Baltimore – my son being born, winning the Super Bowl, buying my first house, now life-saving kidney surgery. I owe Baltimore a lot."
Since it was such a rush to get to Baltimore, Dalton was still calling family and friends as he sat in pre-op. He was on the operating table for six hours and the surgery was a total success.
Dalton got out of the hospital Saturday, and is now staying in the Baltimore area as doctors make sure his body accepts the new kidney. He can't leave the area for about a month as they run blood work twice a week and get his antirejection medications at the right levels.
On a beautiful Labor Day Monday, he went for a walk, then read a book outside. It's the little things.
"I feel better – much better," he said. "Everything is sweeter now. You appreciate things that you took for granted when you're faced with death. The Kool-Aid tastes better. My wife's kisses taste better."
Early on after his diagnosis, Dalton sometimes thought about the possibility that he might not get a kidney transplant in time. But he shifted his mentality soon after.
"I decided that we're all on a pathway," he said. "I wanted to focus on what I wanted to happen and not the worst-case scenario. If it wasn't going to happen, it wasn't going to happen regardless."
Dalton's story was shared far and wide, even reaching "Good Morning America" and other major outlets. So many people reached out, including Ravens fans and fans of the other teams he played for (Denver, Washington, Kansas City and Houston) that Dalton actually had six potential donors in the pipeline.
A couple people who didn't qualify to donate to him still gave a kidney to someone else. There was one woman who was going to donate her kidney to her mother, but she passed away too soon. She shifted to Dalton, but now that he's gotten a transplant, she asked if he could pick the next recipient.
"That's a lot of pressure," Dalton said with a chuckle. "But I indirectly helped people save other people's life, so that makes me feel really good."
Dalton's favorite hobby is to travel. He's making plans to take a friend up on an offer to stay at his place in Ghana, Africa. But don't expect Dalton to be gone for too long; he said he plans to come back to Baltimore to show his appreciation.
"I want to do something for this city. You're going to see a lot more of me in Baltimore in the future," he said.
So what is Dalton's message after all this?
"Have an attitude of gratitude because you never know," he said. "Appreciate life and enjoy it. We all have rough days, but some people wish they had time left to have rough days. They don't have tomorrow. So just appreciate life and take it one day at a time. Pass it forward."