Heart transplant recipient, cancer survivor leaves for college

Mom held surprise graduation ceremony in hospital room

ORLANDO, Fla. – Reese Domond, 19, wiped tears from his eyes as his family paraded balloons, signs and his cap and gown into a hospital room.

Domond was celebrating graduating from high school while also saying good bye to cancer.

"I don't know what I would do if I didn't have my family's support, I'd be lost," Domond said.

Now in remission, Domond said he has gained a new perspective, but he was born with a greater appreciation for life.

"It all started when I was 5 months old, and I was born with cardiomyopathy," said Domond.

As an infant, Domond received a life-saving heart transplant. His mom, Robin Morin, also lost a daughter to cardiomyopathy years before her son was born.

"At the time, they told us that you could receive a heart up to three times the child's weight," said Morin. 

Reese was the 27th heart transplant at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, nineteen years ago. According to his doctors, only about 10 percent of all pediatric heart transplants would develop cancer. 

The transplant was successful. For 18 years, Domond played sports, attended school and worked toward his goal of attending college.

"After years of having my heart, I took medication that suppressed my immune system and in January of 2018 I got diagnosed with cancer because my immune system was suppressed all these years and you know can't keep up," Domond said.

Domond called his transplant medication a double-edged sword. He needed his heart and his body could reject it without the medication-- but the medicine is what caused his lymphoma.

"We were told to expect three years to have another transplant, and that was three years ago," said Morin. "Cancer was not on my radar, you know, so that one we didn't see coming."

For six months, every week, Domond and Morin drove back and forth from Orlando to Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg for his cancer treatment and to see his cardiologist. Morin's sister took over tutoring her nephew in his final months before high school graduation.

When his chemo treatment fell on the same day as the Olympia High School graduation, Domond's family held a surprise private ceremony in the hospital.

"Look for good -- just always look for good, that's what I say," said Domond.

Domond plans to study business management or finance at Santa Fe College and then transfer to University of Florida.

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