Charity Thomas said she couldn't have experienced a better graduation than the celebration she attended Friday afternoon at Cleveland Clinic.
Surrounded by friends, family members and hospital staff, Thomas, who has been a patient at the hospital since late June, received her diploma from Trumbull Business College.
"I couldn't believe it," she said. "I walked into the room and everyone was there. My parents, my entire family, my children, my fiancee, my cousins, people from the school. It was amazing. I never expected that. It was just amazing."
Special to the Tribune Chronicle
Charity Thomas displays her diploma in medical billing and coding. She is seeking a job while awaiting a heart transplant.
Thomas completed the necessary courses for a diploma in medical billing and coding in April. If all had gone as planned, the 24-year-old Austintown woman would have joined her TBC classmates for the commencement program held Friday night in Warren.
However, on June 29, the young mother underwent surgery designed to sustain her until she is able to receive a heart transplant.
"Basically, I'm on a list for a new heart but that could take several years," she said during a telephone conversation Friday from Cleveland after receiving her diploma. "The doctors were concerned I couldn't hold on that long, so they gave me a heart pump to help me until I can have the transplant."
Thomas said her health problems, including congestive heart failure, were discovered a little over a year ago.
Eryn Lancaster, a spokeswoman for Cleveland Clinic, said Thomas' graduation was a combined effort among hospital staff, college representatives and family.
"I don't know if the hospital has ever done something like this before," Lancaster said. "I know we haven't since I've been here, and that's been four years.
''At first, we tried to get the actual graduation in Warren through teleconference. But that fell through and since it didn't work, we decided to bring a graduation to Charity. Just because she's in the hospital doesn't mean she shouldn't be recognized like everyone else and we wanted to make sure we did what we could to see that happen."
Florence Henning, director of financial aid at TBC, spoke at Thomas' ceremony on Friday. Kim Straniak, the college's director of career services, read the keynote address that was also given at the actual ceremony Friday night. Ken Miller, TBC director, presented Thomas' diploma to her.
Thomas, who donned her graduation gown, cap and tassel, said she thought the object of the day was to have her picture taken in her graduation gown.
"I walked in and there were reporters and news people, and then I saw all my family and everyone," she said. "I was totally shocked. Even if I had actually gone to the actual graduation, it couldn't have been this nice or this great.
''This has been amazing. I am just so thankful I was able to finish my classes and get my diploma. And I am so thankful for everyone who put this together for me. I can't thank them enough."
Thomas said she hopes to be released from the hospital within the next few days. Her goal is to use her newly acquired education to pursue a career in the medical field, she said.
"We don't really know what caused my heart problems," she said. "The doctors think I could have gotten a virus that affected me. But I do know I want to do the most with my life. This is a start."