Graduating from high school is a milestone for any student.
Arguably, graduation means more to a football player who was slammed to the turf in the middle of the game.
“I’m feeling great, everything’s good, my results are always great, that’s why they call me the poster boy for Joe DiMaggio,” said Jermaine Toomer, who graduated virtually from Miami Central Senior High School on Thursday.
In this case, Joe DiMaggio refers to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood. Jermaine became the hospital’s first kidney transplant patient in 2018.
In tenth grade, the middle of the game for high school students, Jermaine was healthy, going through football workouts to try out for the team, when he was blindsided by kidney disease.
“I didn’t know what to think, like this came out of nowhere,” Jermaine said.
Within days of the diagnosis, Jermaine was on dialysis, trying to keep up with school work. Six months later, he received a profound gift: a kidney from an 18-year-old girl who had died.
“I feel like it’s a piece of her living in me and I want to honor it,” Jermaine said. “I feel like it’s just my responsibility to be successful because anybody else could’ve got it, they could’ve got it besides me.”
“I’m very proud of him, we all are,” said pediatric nephrologist Dr. Alex Constantinescu.
Everyone at the hospital seems to know Jermaine. They monitor his progress and they’re impressed with what they see in him.
“Perseverance, dedication, discipline, commitment, passion towards organ transplantation, he’s a role model for all of our patients,” said transplant surgeon Dr. Juan Arenas, the director of the Transplant Institute at JDCH.
For the doctors, seeing Jermaine do so well with his recovery is pure gratification, the reason they became physicians in the first place.
“When we see someone do well and continue to do well long-term, it’s the best reward for us and the best satisfaction,” said Dr. Arenas.
“It gives us an opportunity to use him as an example for the rest of the patients and that is very gratifying,” said Dr. Constantinescu.
Jermaine is happy to carry that role model label. Like all transplant recipients, Jermaine is grateful to the donor and feels a responsibility to live a meaningful life.
“So that’s why I really want to be a paramedic,” Jermaine said.
He says his experience has inspired him to become a health care professional. His life was saved, now Jermaine wants to save others, and it starts now by sharing what he’s learned in his transplant experience.
“Just stay strong mentally, you know, just talk to everybody if you think about something wrong, never give up, you got to stay strong,” Jermaine said.