Inspirational Graduate: C-N student will graduate a month after heart transplant
Carson-Newman student Christian Cummins will graduate Friday, a month after her second heart transplant.
A few months ago, Christian Cummins could barely walk to her classes at Carson-Newman University without getting winded.
After her second heart transplant just last month, she will take a deep breath and walk across the stage during commencement ceremonies Friday morning.
Cummins, a 22-year-old Johnson City native, had her first heart transplant when she was just 2-weeks-old suffering from a condition known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.
The condition occurs when the blood in the left artery doesn’t pump correctly and circulate throughout the body.
After her transplant, Cummins grew up to have a normal childhood, graduating from University High School and receiving a scholarship to Carson-Newman.
As a double-major in English and communication studies, Cummins stayed busy with her school work and being the president of the Eagle Production Company, a club that provides for on-campus movies and fun away from class.
Cummins’ world was altered last November when she went to Johnson City to visit her grandparents. During the night she felt a pain on the left side of her chest that began to stretch down the length of her arm; it was a heart attack.
Because a portion of her nerves were cut as a baby, Cummins was told she wouldn’t feel if she had a heart attack. Fortunately, her nerves grew back as she aged and she was able to detect the pain and go to the hospital.
After being seen at the hospital, Cummins learned that the HLHS had returned and she would need to have another heart transplant.
Cummins said the following days were met with shock and nervousness because she worried about when she would be able to get the transplant, having to be put on the national waiting list.
Even though the doctors warned her that fatigue and nausea would eventually set in, Cummins said she felt an “overwhelming peace” knowing that the situation would all eventually work out.
Cummins said as soon as she returned for her final semester in January, the doctors were right.
“Just going to class would put me out of breath,” Cummins said. “My friends were so great though and were very supportive of me. Some would give me rides or walk with me to help.”
Cummins said her professors helped her too, encouraging her to rest if she needed and providing her extra time to catch up.
“Sometimes I would get really tired to the point my professors even told me to stay home, but I went to class anyway because I knew if I could just get there I’d be OK,” she said.
Carson-Newman University Presi-dent Randall O’Brien even called Cummins his hero.
“How ironic that she would need a new heart when she has more heart than anyone I know. She is the most positive, determined, tough-minded, sweet-spirited person you will ever meet. Oh, what an inspiration she is to all of us,” he said.
On April Fools Day, Cummins got the call she had been waiting for – Vanderbilt University Medical Center had a heart for her.
The next day she underwent her transplant surgery and responded well in the immediate recovery.
A week after her surgery, she began cardiac rehabilitation that she will continue to go through for the next few weeks.
Cummins said after her surgery several of her friends came to visit her in the hospital, which meant a lot because of the distance and the care they showed.
At the end of April, she had a biopsy for her pending release from the hospital but unfortunately the test showed she had an infection and had to take steroids.
Once the infection was cleared and doctors approved her release, Cummins returned home on Wednesday, just in time to graduate with her peers.
“I never thought I would have to have another transplant,” she said. “I also never understood all the steps that having a transplant took. It’s a lot more complex than what I thought it was.”
Cummins will continue to go through rehab at home. Although she is used to having to take anti-rejection medication (just two pills as she was growing up), she will now have to add 10 more pills to her daily routine. The medication will slowly decrease as she gets healthier, but Cummins said she isn’t bothered by it.
Cummins said she no longer suffers from shortage of breath and is walking farther than she’s been able to all year.
With her doctors’ OK, she plans on attending Friday’s commencement ceremony that earlier in the year, she and her family thought she might miss out on.
“Graduation is something I’ve been building up to for four years. Graduating from college is important and education is very important to me. Just being able to walk across that stage and say ‘I did it,’ even through these hard trials. I want to do it because I’ve been through so much. It’s just kind of how I am. I want to complete what I started,” she said.
Cummins will have to take some summer classes to catch up on work and exams she missed in her final semester.
After summer school she plans on attending graduate school to seek a possible degree in screenwriting, but understands she must take things slow as she recovers. Her distant future includes the goal of obtaining a Ph.D.
“After going through everything with the transplant, I feel as though it has really opened my mind and opened the door to all kinds of possibilities. I never let it get me down. I feel like right now I can accomplish anything I set out to do,” Cummins said.
-By Chris Phipps, Tribune Staff Writer