Daniel and Forrest Theiss wanted to fight for their country.
Daniel dreamed of becoming an airborne medic in the U.S. Army. Forrest enlisted with the U.S. Marines.
Instead, the 18-year-old identical twins are fighting for their lives after being diagnosed with a genetic condition – so rare it doesn’t even have a name – that causes blood vessels in their body to rip and shred.
In the past year and a half, the once healthy and active Mason teens have each undergone multiple surgeries to repair aortas shredded like wet tissue paper. Complications during a surgery in January – Daniel’s third major operation – left him a paraplegic.
For the brothers and their parents, Matt and stepmom Kathy, the journey has been both heartbreaking and harrowing, but also inspiring – a lesson about finding joy in adversity and of the transformational power of family and community.
At first glance, it’s hard to tell Daniel and Forrest apart.
Sharing a 98 percent genetic match, both have the same tall, lanky build, aquiline nose and doleful brown eyes. Even their voices – and their infectious sense of humor – are nearly indistinguishable
The differences, they will tell you, are in the details.
Daniel, the older brother by five minutes, is practical and patient. Forrest, the entertainer, embraces the limelight, while Daniel, the quiet artist, prefers to remain behind-the-scenes.
When Matt’s job as a business analyst moved the family from Long Island, N.Y., to Mason the summer before their senior year in 2011, the boys quickly found their groove at Mason High School.
Daniel joined the cross country team. Forrest tried out for the school musical. Despite a bout of pneumonia that fall that sidelined Daniel, there was little sign of what was to come.