Woman graduates one month after heart transplant

There are some things that don't happen twice. Christian Cummins always knew her college graduation was one of them.

"She's tough. She's a fighter. She's an inspiration," Christian's mom, Tami, said.

But four days before the Johnson City native planned to walk across the stage in the Carson Newman University ceremony, her doctors told her it would be nearly impossible.

At two weeks old, a heart condition left Christian's mom with three choices: a rare heart transplant, a painful medical procedure, or keeping her comfortable.

"It was very daunting but my husband and I after much prayer and just seeing her, it only took a second, we knew we were going to Vanderbilt and wait for a heart," Tami said.

Christian's surgery was a success. She was only the 16th baby to ever have a heart transplant at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. That heart provided her with the strength she needed to be a normal kid.

"I was able to play sports, go to public school, do the whole thing," Christian, 22, said.

She went on to study screenwriting and communications at Carson Newman.

Then, six months before graduation, the heart that served her for 22 years started to fail. She suffered a heart attack in November while on campus.

"It was hard for me to get to class. I would get out of breath. Even just getting up in the mornings, I was just so tired," Christian said.

"In November, the heart attack changed everything. She progressively started feeling worse and worse. And we found out she was going to have to be put back on the transplant list," Tami said.

She stayed on that list for a few months. On April 1st, she got the call a heart was waiting for her. The next day she had the surgery.

"Actually I feel better than I have this whole year. It's been great," Christian said.

But at one point during her graduation week, she was in danger of missing the ceremony because doctors said she was showing some signs of rejection. Tuesday, an echo showed the rejection was gone and allowed her to walk.

"Here she is to graduate from Carson Newman," President Dr. Randall O'Brien said as she came up on stage, "She was determined to do it, she kept the faith."

Now that she has her diploma, she's setting her sights on the next milestone.

"I feel so thankful and so grateful that I was able to finish through to the very end and be able to walk with my friends and family. It's an amazing feeling," she said.

A surgery most people never have once, Christian made it through twice.

She has plans to receive her master's degree in screenwriting.


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