Reese Domond donned his black cap and gown May 24, like all the other classmates ready to graduate from Olympia High School. But the graduating senior had to settle for watching the Amway Center ceremony via live feed from his room at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, in St. Petersburg.
Domond is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments and was forced to skip his graduation. But his mother, aunt, uncle and grandparents made sure he didn’t miss everything. They surprised the 19-year-old with his cap and gown, a copy of his graduation program, balloons and a sign that read “Proud home of an Olympia High graduate.”
The hospital staff provided signs and “Pomp and Circumstance.”
“I was shocked and surprised when I saw my family walk in,” Domond said. “Then I became very emotional knowing they all came out to be with me on my graduation night.”
Along with his cap and gown, Domond wore bright yellow hospital socks and slides, and with a big smile on his face, he proudly carried one of the signs and walked through the hospital hallways in his own private ceremony.
Nancy Bardoe, Olympia’s media specialist, sent Domond a link so he could live stream the ceremony.
“She also made sure that my picture would be displayed and that my name would be called out just like all the other graduates,” he said.
Were there lots of cheers from the audience?
“I am not sure because when my name was called out, my family in the hospital room shouted out loud,” he said. “Theirs was all I heard.”
He admits he was sad knowing he couldn’t enjoy graduation with his friends and classmates, but he understands his health must come first.
Domond was born with cardiomyopathy and had a heart transplant when he was 5 months old. His older sister, Bianca, was diagnosed with the same disease in 1997, four months after she was born, and she died that same year.
Last December, Domond started feeling pain in his stomach and neck. By January, one side of his neck was so swollen that he sought medical attention. Doctors sent him for blood work and an ultrasound at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, in Orlando, followed by a consultation with his cardiologist in St. Petersburg.
Tests determined he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and the cancer was in his neck, lungs and intestinal wall. He said doctors told him his antirejection medications caused the Post Transplant Lymphoma Disorder.
The graduate has been undergoing treatments since late January. The last few months have not been easy, as the treatments have not been successful in his intestines, he said.
“During the last two months of school I had been experiencing unbearable pain where I could not eat and sleep,” Domond said. “A CT scan on May 17 revealed that I had a perforated bowel. I underwent surgery on May 18 to fix that and also remove about eight inches of my small intestine to analyze the lymphoma that was not reacting to the treatments I had been undergoing for the past five months.”
It has been tough juggling serious health issues and his school. He learned most of the material in Honors Statistics and AP Macroeconomics on his own, he said. His aunt visited once a week and helped him with his work for six to eight hours at a time.
Several of his teachers created a plan for the spring semester, and others helped emotionally.
Domond started a new treatment the day after graduation. His summer plans are to rest and continue his cancer battle before attending Santa Fe College and then transferring to the University of Florida, both in Gainesville, to study business.
Domond and his mother, Robin Morin, live in Gotha.
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.