The graduate from Orlando's Olympia High walks the halls in full cap and gown. Pomp and Circumstance plays in the background. Yellow socks shuffle slowly along the floor of the pediatric intensive care unit. But there is pep in his step considering he just sacrificed 8 precious inches of small intestines to the cause. Child Life specialists deliver a cake. They play the music. The nurses hold signs. Mylar balloons waft through the air.
2018 Grad! Congrats! Way to Go Grad!
Some laugh. Some cry. Cameras flash.
Reese didn’t expect to be at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital for his high school graduation. But Reese is a sport. He has had to be. He's surprised to see his family filing in, many all the way from Montreal. He is overwhelmed. He isn’t missing graduation, he explains through tears he can’t hold in, because they brought graduation to him.
The fact that he has likely spent more time at Johns Hopkins All Children’s than he did at Olympia High doesn’t go unnoticed by anyone. So this unconventional celebration works. It was hard earned.
His heart transplant here in 1999 was the first of many visits for Reese and Robin, his mom—that long stretch of Interstate-4 from Orlando to St. Petersburg becoming routine. But cardiomyopathy was no match for this big, strapping athlete. By age 3, he was playing basketball and running track for the Transplant Team of America. He also played on the Junior Magic team.
Life slowly became normal.
Then, out of nowhere, lymphoma. It spread to his intestines in the middle of the night. It’s a one-two punch that no one deserves.
Surgery. More chemo.
No problem, says Robin, who gives him his courage. His bravado. His strength.
“We got this. We’re looking ahead to college,” she says. An MBA, he adds. Maybe a doctorate? His room in Gainesville is already rented for fall starting with Santa Fe Community College. Then, Gators, here he comes.
For college graduation, he’ll be on that stage.