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Marco Dinges overcomes the battle against a rare disease


Last year, Marco Dinges was fighting for his life in the hospital after being diagnosed with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. One year later, he is participating in the College World Series with the FSU baseball team.

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Marco Dinges is part of the Florida State baseball team's turnaround season and is aiming to win the College World Series in 2024 for the first time in program history.

Dinges had his own season in which everything changed.

Little did anyone know that Dinges would have to endure one more battle before becoming a Seminole who made it to the College World Series for the 24th time in school history. No. 8 FSU plays No. 1 Tennessee on Friday night in Omaha, Nebraska.

Only recently, Dinges revealed a secret he had kept for a year.

Dinges spent weeks in the hospital battling hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH). HLH is a rare and fatal disease in which white blood cells cause damage to organs, which can lead to organ failure and death.

The disease is usually diagnosed at a young age, and his FSU jersey number, No. 43, represents the number of days Dinges spent in the hospital battling this rare disease.

Former FSU quarterback Marcus Outzen died earlier this year from complications of HLH.

Marco Dinges is fighting for his life after discovering he has HLH

The first signs of Dinges' illness began during his final baseball season at Tallahassee Community College, when he developed a sore throat.

On April 4, 2023, during the game against Chipola College, he developed a high fever and became dehydrated. He was unable to finish the game and was taken to a nearby hospital.

When TCC returned to Tallahassee, he went to HCA Hospital. At first, doctors thought he had mononucleosis, but it was worse. Dinges' fever rose to 104 degrees and he was taken to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, where Marcos was confirmed to have HLH syndrome.

TCC head coach Bryan Henry, who was playing his first season with the Eagles, was unaware of this at the time and was stunned when he learned the devastating news.

“I had no idea what it was, and I googled it and started crying in the car,” Henry recalled. “I didn't know what it meant for him to get the treatment he needed to fight and fight.”

“I mean, it shows how tough he is and what kind of boy he is.”

For five weeks and in two hospitals, Dinges fought for his life.

Dinges' father Mark was at the end of his strength.

He believed that his son was not getting better and called the chief physician.

“It was hell,” Mark recalled. “All night long, just changing the sheets. He just couldn't bring that fever down. They were doing blood work on him every four hours. And they just had no idea.”

Mark was assisted by his sister Susan Burek, a physician from Hilton Head, South Carolina, who conducted medical research during Marco's treatment.

Dr. Melissa E. Elder also told Mark that he would save his son. Elder is a professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine. She specializes in immunology and pediatric rheumatology.

She injected gamaSTAN into Dinges' muscles and monitored him for the next 48 hours. Everything went well for Dinges, he was released from the hospital and returned to Tallahassee.

Mark is grateful to his sister and eldest for treating his son for the past three weeks.

“If my sister hadn't done all the research and Dr. Elder hadn't done it, she would have known immediately what was going on because she's a specialist,” Mark said.

“People from all over the country come to her to get tested for these rare blood disorders. And she was the one who changed everything for the better for us.”

Marco Dinges signed with FSU Baseball as a walk-on

Dinges is originally from Beekman, New York. He also lived in Virginia before moving to Tarpon Springs, Florida, where he graduated from East Lake High School.

He joined the TCC baseball team in 2022. In his freshman year, the catcher hit .345 with 14 doubles, seven home runs and 40 RBI. In the 2023 season, he hit .383 with a .486 on-base percentage, eight home runs and 40 RBI. He was a two-time First Team All-Panhandle Conference player.

“The skills and the tools were there,” Henry said. “I mean, everything he did was just different. The ball sounded different when he hit it. When he threw it, you could just tell he was a special talent.”

Henry, a former FSU pitcher, contacted FSU head coach Link Jarrett and his then-assistant Rich Wallace, who is now the head coach at UCF, and told them about the New York native.

“He's tough and dynamic,” Jarrett said of Dinges. “Medically, he was over the top and he's lucky he was able to recover. The body has recovered and regained its shape.”

Dinges had originally chosen Maryland but did not sign his official letter. FSU took advantage of the opportunity and Dinges joined the team as a walk-on.

Dinges made an immediate impact with his hitting, serving primarily as the team's designated hitter. His .321 batting average is third best on the team behind Cam Smith (.402) and James Tibbs III (.374). He also has 15 home runs and 66 RBIs.

“A dream came true. It was the best year of my life,” Dinges told Osceola.

“(My illness) gave me a lot of motivation and I definitely appreciated the game a lot. You're grateful to be at practice every day, you're grateful to be in front of a great group of guys and of course very grateful just to be able to play the sport. Because you never knew, or at least I didn't know if I was going to wake up tomorrow. It was a pretty tough illness but I'm very happy to be where I am now and to be playing with a great team.”

During the Super Regional Championship, Dinges hit a solo home run in two consecutive games against UConn, helping FSU to a berth in the College World Series for the first time since 2019.

“He's just a dynamic, fun kid,” Jarrett said. “He's fun to be around. He's dynamic at bat, he's got a dynamic personality, he's a great kid, so personally, I've really enjoyed watching him develop and grow. I think he's positioned himself really well for the next level of baseball.”

The Dingers want to raise awareness of HLH

Mark Dinges attends every FSU game and always wears his son's jersey.

In Game 2 of the Super Regional, he met another father and FSU alumnus named James Small. Small approached Mark when he saw the number 43 jersey and assumed he was Marco's father.

Small had a son named Braden who suffered from HLH. Sadly, Braden passed away at the age of 23.

Mark and Small immediately hit it off and hugged each other, knowing that they shared the same emotional trauma as parents. Small met with Marco before the game and had a frank conversation.

“As a father, you have a kind of immediate connection,” Small said. “I could see the pain he had suffered, and he knew the pain I had suffered.”

After Marco hit a home run in the fifth inning, he made a heart shape directly on Small, a tribute to Small's late son.

“This gesture brought tears to our family’s eyes and gave us the assurance that Marco would be committed to raising awareness about HLH,” Small said.

The two plan to stay in touch.

He and Dinges want to raise awareness for HLH and the FSU community.

“He encouraged me,” Mark said of his son. “There were times when I cried in front of him every day, but he always told me, 'Don't worry, we'll get through it.' And he never gave up. That was probably the most amazing thing about the whole thing.”

How can I watch the FSU vs. Tennessee baseball game on Friday?

  • TV: ESPN (Channel 206 on DirecTV, Channel 140 on Dish)
  • Streaming: ESPN+ ($10.99 per month), WatchESPN and the ESPN app (TV provider subscription required), fuboTV (7-day free trial), YouTube TV (2-week free trial), Hulu + Live TV (7-day free trial)

How can I listen to FSU baseball on the radio?

  • Radio: WFLA FM 100.7
  • Streaming: Seminole Sports Network

Tickets for the College World Series can be purchased at CWSOmaha.com.

Peter Holland Jr. covers Florida State athletics for the Tallahassee Democrat. Reach him via email at PHolland@Gannett.com or X @_Da_pistol

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