When doctors diagnosed Komonte Hassel, 17, with a rare condition that rendered him bed-bound last month, he immediately flipped through the calendar in his head.
“I was sad when I thought I might not graduate,” he said from his hospital bed this week. “When I got in the hospital, it was one of the first things I thought about.”
Doctors admitted Komonte to Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital over a month ago after he fell ill with a fusobacterium infection.
It left him weakened and in pain, but his nurses have come to see him as one of the strongest kids they know.
“He is always trying to push himself, even when the pain is strong,” said Marlie Vipond, PT, a physical therapist on Komonte’s care team. “He always wants to do better.
“One day he was so certain to push through the pain, just to sit up in his hospital bed,” Vipond said. “He’s a really tough kid.”
The condition has affected many of the joints and biological systems in Komonte’s body.
Physical therapists and occupational therapists have been working with him daily. The team spends hours helping him reach simple goals, such as sitting up in the bed and getting into a chair.
“Komonte is such a strong fighter,” said Megan Hoefakker, RN, one of his nurses. “I am so glad we could celebrate all of his accomplishments both inside and outside of the hospital. We are so proud of him.”
On Friday, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital joined forces with Grand Rapids Public Schools on a plan to deliver a special surprise to Komonte: a graduation ceremony he would never forget.
A crowd of nearly 30 people—family, friends, hospital staff and teachers and staff from Komonte’s school—attended the ceremony.
Kenyatta Hill, principal at University Prep Academy, kicked off the ceremony and addressed the crowd while presenting Komonte his cap and gown.
Hill read the full commencement speech that had been delivered at the school’s official ceremony and she kept the event highly official. “Pomp and Circumstance” even played in the background.
“We felt strongly that every student works hard and we knew Komonte had worked really hard outside the walls of the school,” Hill said. “It is important to recognize his hard work, dedication and, of course, his great smile and personality, too.”
Toward the end of the ceremony, Komonte made it official as he moved the tassel on his hat.
“Congratulations, sir!” Hill said.
Komonte dried a few tears from his eyes as his mother, Jessie Ivy, thanked everyone for their continued support.
“I want to thank you all for being here … for helping my son while he was going through so much,” Ivy said. “I really do appreciate it.”
As Ivy cut the cake—donated by the local Dairy Queen—friends and family came forward one by one to congratulate the graduate.
“We are really happy to be able to celebrate this important academic milestone that he has worked 12 years toward,” said Sarah Smith, the hospital teacher at the Dick and Linda Antonini Hospital School Program at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “It was great to have his school and medical team on hand to help celebrate with his family.
“It shows a great collaboration between his school, the hospital school program, child life, music therapy and care management,” Smith said.
Annie LeClere, also Komonte’s teacher at the hospital school program, said he’s the sweetest kid.
Every time she would walk into his hospital room, even in the middle of a movie, he would drop what he was doing to engage in his lessons.
He’s recently become interested in a health care career, too.
“After seeing what they all do here at the hospital, Komonte expressed interest in becoming a nurse one day,” Ivy said.
Meanwhile, Komonte continues to work diligently to get things back to normal. He’s working especially hard to get back to walking. He loves playing basketball and he’d like to get back to that, too.
“When I saw his face today, he was so happy,” his mom said. “And he was even happier when he saw the principal come out with his cap, gown and diploma.”
Kamonte smiled and closed out the ceremony with a few parting words.
“I love you all,” he said. “Thank you everyone for coming. I appreciate all of you. And I’m glad I made it.”