The Essentials of the Heart
J. Daniel “Dan” Corrales was 23-years-old working as a fire safety director for a property management company in New York City on September 11, 2001.
“I knew some of the firefighters and paramedics who went in the World Trade Center and never returned,” said Corrales. “That’s when I decided to join the military.”
Corrales served in the U.S. Army until he was shot in the hand, severing muscle, tendons and nerves, which left his hand crippled. With extensive surgeries to repair his hand and loss of bone in his hip, he is considered 80 percent disabled.
However, Corrales was determined that his disability would not keep him from fulfilling a dream he had since he took a Business Law class at Midland College in 1996—he earned his Juris Doctor from Brooklyn Law School.
“I was a Legacy Scholarship student at Midland College right after I graduated from Midland High School,” explained Corrales. “I took a Business Law course to fulfill requirements for a degree in Business, and Nancy Hart was the teacher. I loved it, and that’s when I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer.”
Corrales grew up in Midland and was mainly raised by his grandmother Oralia “Lillie” Corrales, who is considered by many to be a Midland legend. In 1982, Lillie Corrales was the first ethnic minority elected to Midland City Council and served on the Council representing District 2 until 1989. Lillie Corrales passed away in 1995. Now, her grandson, Dan Corrales, is following in his grandmother’s footsteps by running for the Midland City Council District 4 position.
“My grandmother was one of the most influential people in my life,” said Corrales. “She was a business entrepreneur, community volunteer and all-around great grandmother.”
Dan explained that his parents divorced when he was young. His mother, who is Ecuadorian, moved with Dan to New York City after the divorce. At age 12, he returned to live with Oralia. After graduating from Midland High School and attending Midland College, Dan Corrales moved to Brooklyn and attended St. Francis University where he received a bachelor’s degree in Business.
While attending Brooklyn Law School, Corrales worked in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office as a paralegal. He also served as a student prosecutor under U. S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and as an Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn. He attributes the first two experiences toward his receiving the highest grade in trial advocacy and best opening and closing statements among his student peers during his years at Brooklyn Law School.
After graduating from law school with a Juris Doctor, Corrales moved to Europe to obtain a joint Master’s degree in Sports Law from St. John’s University School of Law and internationally-renowned ISDE School of Law and Business in Barcelona, Spain. He then practiced sports law in Spain and Switzerland before moving back to the United States.
“I was ready to return to my roots,” stated Corrales. “So, I came back to Midland and worked for my uncle in his insurance company—Corrales Insurance, which was originally started by my grandmother Lillie.”
He also volunteered with the Midland Community Theatre and performed in several of their productions as well as with the Maverick Players.
“I think performing opening and closing statements as an attorney was good practice for my roles with MCT and the Maverick Players,” laughed Corrales.
In 2014 Corrales married his wife Michelle after a four-month whirlwind courtship. The couple are raising their 10-year-old son and Michelle’s 15-year-old niece.
“Once again, as I’m raising my family, I have my grandmother Lillie to thank,” explained Corrales. “My stepson is autistic and couldn’t speak until he was 4. He took speech classes through MARC here in Midland. When my grandmother was on the City Council, she helped obtain a CDBG [Community Development Block Grant] for MARC. Her great grandson is now benefitting from her efforts.”
Like his grandmother, Corrales is also a business entrepreneur. He helped family members establish the Golden Chick restaurant on Florida Avenue. Michelle and Dan own Pristine Organic Dry Cleaners in Red Oak Plaza on Loop 250 between HEB and the Hilton Garden Inn. Today, the business is thriving, but not after a major setback.
On January 27, 2017, while Michelle and Dan were in the process of opening the dry cleaning business, they were eating dinner at home while watching television.
“There was something funny on TV, and I laughed at the wrong time. The food went down my trachea,” explained Dan. “I was choking. Michelle said when she looked over and saw me, I had fallen on the floor and was blue. By the time EMS arrived, I had no pulse.”
He was rushed to Midland Memorial Hospital where he slipped into a coma. EMS managed to resuscitate Corrales, but he had gone without oxygen for more than 20 minutes.
“The odds were against me,” stated Corrales. “The doctors told my wife that more than likely I would be in a vegetative state.”
To preserve his brain activity, doctors put Corrales in a hypothermic state then slowly raised his body temperature.
“The doctors told my wife that if I ever woke up, I probably wouldn’t be able to speak and probably wouldn’t even know her. After two weeks, I did awaken. I remember seeing Michelle right there by my side. She said my name and asked me if I knew who she was. I immediately said, ‘Of course, I know who you are—you’re my wife.’ There was no sign of brain injury. It truly was a miracle! Even the doctors are amazed that I wasn’t paralyzed or brain dead.
“The experience taught me a valuable lesson: Appreciate the people in your life while you have them because you really don’t know what tomorrow may bring. I wake up every day thanking God that I’m here.”
Corrales went back to work the day after he was released from the hospital. He was determined to get the business up and running.
Corrales also still practices law occasionally in New York representing real estate developers. He takes pride in the fact that he practices law with the strong ethical background instilled in him during his childhood and youth in Midland.
“Recently, I was representing an apartment complex that wanted to evict a single mother with three children for nonpayment of her rent,” said Corrales. “It was the Christmas season, and I just couldn’t see making the family leave their home during the holidays. Fortunately, I asked for a continuance that allowed them to remain in the apartment until January.”
Corrales said that many Midlanders believe that the city’s population is losing these ethical values, but he claims that isn’t so.
“Midland is a melting pot,” said Corrales. “People are moving here from other places, and I believe it’s making Midland better. We can still retain those values that I learned growing up here.”
Corrales proudly displays a tattoo on his arm written in Spanish: “Lo esencial es invisible a los ojos.” Translated in English it means, “What is essential is invisible to the eyes.” It is from the children’s book The Little Prince.
“The entire passage in the book reads, ‘It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly: what is essential is invisible to the eye,’” said Corrales. “It is a motto I try to maintain in my life. We focus way too much on superficial things. What is important are those things that are truly felt with our heart.” †