CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — Fans packed into Bank of America Stadium for Sir Elton John’s farewell tour Sunday night, but two of those fans were on a special mission.
By the time John’s American leg of his final tour is complete, Steve Hilfiker and Vanessa Blais will have been to seven shows. They’re trying to get the singer’s attention and raise awareness about their unique story.
While Hilfiker is a huge fan of the Rocket Man, for him, it’s not just about the music. In 2019, he received a lifechanging diagnosis: a rare heart condition known as cardiac sarcoidosis. He would need a heart transplant, and his donor would become a 31-year-old man named Daniel.
“I do miss my brother a lot. He was such a goofball. He just made the days better,” said Blais, Daniel’s sister.
Just 10 days after his diagnosis, Hilfiker went to an Elton John concert and heard him perform the song ‘Daniel.’ Behind the superstar, a video played. That video has haunted Hilfiker ever since.
“Metaphorically, it’s a young man laying flat with no shirt on, who ages into an older man who looks like me. That moment of aging is like the transplant,” said Hilfiker.
A couple of years later, he would learn his own donor was named Daniel, and that the lyrics of the song reflected his life. This knowledge led Hilfiker down a long, yellow brick road to get John to recognize his story and help raise awareness about organ donation.
Sunday’s concert will be Hilfiker and Blais’ fourth together. They’ll go to three more before the tour is over.
“Tonight, we’ll be holding up signs. I’ll be holding up a sign that says, ‘Heart Transplant from Daniel.’ Daniel’s sister will be holding a sign saying, ‘Daniel’s My Brother,’ said Hilfiker.
At each concert, the pair brings along a stethoscope to allow Blais to hear her brother’s heart.
“There is good that comes out of it. I know that there’s pain in the beginning, but there’s still good that comes out of it,” said Blais.
Hilfilker also produced a short documentary about organ donation. It was featured at Cannes Film Festival. He says he is currently in the process of creating a longer version of the film, featuring donors and recipients from all over the world. It is set to come out in 2023.