Awaiting Heart Transplant, Fla. Teen Celebrates Graduation from Hospital
(GAINESVILLE, Fla.) -- Taylor Haberman may not have gotten to dance at her high school prom or walk down the stage to accept her diploma at graduation, but thanks to the help of an adolescent palliative care organization, she was still able to celebrate those milestones from the Gainesville, Fla., hospital where she is awaiting a heart transplant.
Through a five-camera stream, the 18-year-old from St. Johns, Fla., accepted her diploma from the principal of Bartram Trail High School in real time and saw her peers graduate on Saturday afternoon, thanks to a live video feed that broadcast the graduation to the hospital's conference room.
Taylor's peers also got a glimpse of their fellow graduate thanks to one of her sisters, who used video calling on her iPad to "walk" Taylor across the stage and once she had graduated, held up the device with Taylor on the other end so the senior class could see her face.
The entire graduating class even wore hearts on their gowns to honor their classmate.
"She was ecstatic. Just like any other senior, she did it," Taylor's mother, Kelly Haberman told ABC News. "While it was nothing like being with your own graduating class, it was the next best thing."
Taylor has been waiting to receive a heart transplant for six months at University of Florida Health Shands Children's Hospital in Gainesville. She was born with congenital heart disease, her mother said. While Taylor had several corrective surgeries as a toddler, her condition worsened around the end of her junior year in high school.
"It was coming down to the last straw of what we could actually do for her," Haberman said. "[Being admitted] into the hospital was the last alternative."
Haberman said after months of treatments at home at the start of her senior year, Taylor was admitted to the hospital in January in hopes of getting a heart transplant.
"In order for [Taylor] to be pretty high on the transplant list, she needed to be in-patient," she said. "As far as organ donors, she could wait for years and years if she sat at home."
Haberman said adjusting to hospital life was a difficult transition for her daughter, especially because she realized she would have to miss out on the pivotal events that often characterize a teenager's high school experience.
"You look forward to your senior year, that's when all the fun is," Haberman said. "It was a huge transition for her. She's leaving all her friends, she's missing everything."
But thanks to Streetlight, a non-profit peer support group organization that partners pre-med students with young adults in the hospital, Taylor was able to still enjoy those events, albeit from within the hospital.
"When she couldn't go to the prom, they threw a prom there for her and brought the prom to her," Haberman said. "We were hoping that [her doctors] were going to let her out of the hospital for the day to attend graduation."
But when clearances fell through, Streetlight director Rebecca Brown told ABC News that the organization began to think of ways to help make Taylor's graduation just as meaningful as her prom had been.
"She really wanted the heart before her graduation. We were hopeful it would come in, but it didn't," Brown said. "So we started thinking about how we could do this."
Brown said Taylor told her she wanted her graduation live-streamed into the hospital so she could watch it, as well as accept her diploma virtually.
"Streetlight and Bartram [Trail High School] stepped in and made it all happen yesterday," Haberman said. "I'm blessed that everybody has made it as much of a senior year as possible."
Taylor's family as well as members of the Streetlight team gathered in the hospital's conference room Saturday to watch and participate in her high school graduation, which went off without a hitch.
"We were all there screaming and cheering for her in the room we had set up and decorated for her graduation," Brown said. "We had a really big party after the actual graduation. The room didn't clear out until 7:30 p.m."
As Taylor waits to be taken off the transplant list, her mother said she plans to take online classes to stay busy. She eventually wants to study nursing at the University of Florida in Gainesville, her mother said. For a graduation present, she's asked for a trip to New York City as soon as she's out of the hospital, Haberman said.
"At this point, it's just a waiting game," Haberman said. "We're waiting for that call to come in."
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