Heart Transplant Patient Surprised with Graduation Ceremony in Hospital

A high school senior who missed his graduation while hospitalized had a big surprise last week.

Joseph Bommarito Autman, 18, has had congestive heart failure for most of his life, and had been waiting on the heart transplant list for months. When he got a call that a new heart was ready for him at the Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, about an hour east of Los Angeles, Calif., he and his family jumped at the opportunity — but the surgery coincided with his high school graduation.

“When I got on the transplant list, they said it could take up to years, decades to get new hearts,” the graduating senior told local CBS Los Angeles station KCAL. “It took me like a couple months and here I am with a new heart.”

Luckily, the medical professionals at the hospital, his teachers and parents came up with a creative solution to help him get his diploma in a special graduation ceremony.

“I wasn’t even expecting it,” he said in the interview. “They just woke me up. They said, ‘Put your cap and gown on.’ “

Autman was guided down the hallway of the hospital, his parents helping him along the way, to a room filled with his teachers, his pediatric cardiologist, Natalie Shwaish, and more of his nurses and doctors — all of whom were waiting in masks with banners signed with well-wishes from classmates, balloons and most importantly, his diploma.

The senior’s mom, Sjana Autman, told KCAL that although he struggled with learning difficulties and and issues with writing due to his lifelong heart condition — which caused him to have four surgeries before the age of 4 — his perseverance is what helped him finish school.

“He never wavered in trying hard,” Autman said. “He had to try harder than the other children.”

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“He didn’t just graduate, he got a heart transplant,” Shwaish added to the station. “Five days ago. …We found a wonderful heart for him, just recently, from a very generous donor.”

Although Autman is preparing to stay in the hospital for several more weeks and recover at home for the rest of the summer, KCAL reported, this is not even close to the end of his educational journey. The 18-year-old plans to begin pursuing a college degree at Mt. San Jacinto College in the fall.

“I could not have done this by myself,” Autman added, speaking with the outlet. “I don’t think anybody could have done this. This is all a culmination of many people’s efforts.”

“This has given me, like, a second wind, you know,” he finished. “Not as much a second chance, but a second wind. Now I get to have a new drive, a new passion again.”

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