Two teenagers who met 13 years ago as children, when they both had rare organ transplants, are set to go to a homecoming dance together in the Washington, D.C., area.
There was a time when Jakob “J.J.” Jasin's and Grace Haddad's parents feared they might not live to see kindergarten. Now, they're headed to Jasin's homecoming dance together.
Jasin and Haddad first met when they were toddlers. They were some of the first people in the world to get liver transplants to cure a life-threatening disorder, their families say.
Over the years they saw each other at summer camp, but their relationship deepened at this year's camp. Jasin said it was easy to fall for someone who understood what he went through as a child.
"She's really the one person I know who's gone through the exact same things I have," he said.
Haddad echoed the sentiment. She described Jasin as a source of support.
"We just kind of complain about things we don't like about the transplant, but then we also remind each other that you're grateful," she said.
They both cope with medication, getting their blood drawn regularly and the fear that their bodies could reject the organs.
They were both battling maple syrup urine disease (MSUD), a rare genetic disorder that prevents the liver from producing protein. Left untreated, MSUD leads to severe brain damage. Their parents lived in constant fear of dire complications.
"It was brain damage. It was death," Jasin's mother, Susan Pacin said.
The solution came at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UMPC. Jasin was one of the first people in the world to undergo a liver transplant to treat MSUD, his family said. Three weeks later, Haddad had the same transplant.
Over the years, their families stayed in touch. The children saw each other at a summer camp for kids who had had transplants.
This summer, romance blossomed. They went to the camp dance together.
"Over the years [we've] gotten closer and closer, but this year I guess it's significantly closer," Haddad said.
"It was kind of subtly there and then it kind of grew over time, and I was like, 'OK, yeah, there's something there,'" Jasin said.
Haddad has her dress ready for homecoming, and her mom will drive her from their home in Montgomery County, Maryland, to the dance at Jasin's school, Rock Ridge High School in Ashburn, Virginia.
"I mean, before, we thought kindergarten wouldn't even be possible, and now here I am as a senior going to homecoming, and I'm going to enjoy myself," Jasin said.
For information on organ, eye or tissue donation, visit BeADonor.org.