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His life was short, but he loved every minute of it

Tue., Jan. 12, 2010

After 3,500 columns and counting, some of the names, faces and storylines understandably tend to blur a bit.

But you don’t forget a kid like Jeremy Cereghino.

Our one and only meeting took place on a sweaty August day in 2002. Jeremy, barely 16, was about to enter his junior year at Spokane’s Lewis and Clark High School.

Jeremy looked like any other average American teenager who liked shooting hoops and busting moves on a skateboard. Unless you saw the long, still-purple scar from the heart transplant he had received at the start of the summer.

“He had a great life and we all treasured every moment of it,” wrote Jeremy’s mom, Teresa Hawkins, who sent an e-mail to me to tell me about Jeremy’s death on Dec. 9.

“He continued to work up until the day he died, though he could have easily gotten disability. He gave up skateboarding and took up skiing and wakeboarding and his favorite days were spent on his brother’s boat at various local lakes.”

Dead at 23. It seems like such cosmic unfairness.

Teresa doesn’t see it that way. The transplant, she said, gave her son seven extra years.

She’s right. The virus that triggered Jeremy’s immune system to attack his own heart was a game changer. The boy’s lungs filled with fluid. His breathing was reduced to a shallow whisper.

Without a transplant?

Jeremy wouldn’t have seen 17.

But transplants take time. There’s the matter of finding the right match, which is compounded by a demand that far exceeds the supply.

So the wizards at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center fitted Jeremy with a three-pound titanium heart pump. That kept the teen healthy enough to survive his two-month wait for a second chance.

As the years passed, however, Jeremy developed some coronary artery disease and few other complications.

“He didn’t focus on his situation,” Teresa said. “He just wasn’t going to let it slow him down.”

On the day he died, Jeremy was headed to catch a bus that would take him to his job at a Spokane Valley McDonald’s. He was just two blocks away from his North Side home when he collapsed.

Enter Cam Severson. The former Spokane Chiefs hockey player was driving by when he spotted the young man lying in the winter cold grass.

Cam stopped and rushed to his side. Jeremy regained consciousness long enough to explain his situation, that he thought his transplanted heart was undergoing rejection.

Cam put Jeremy into the back seat of his truck when the young man passed out again. He dialed 911.

During the wait for the ambulance Jeremy woke up and called his mom to tell her he’d be at Sacred Heart.

“I will always have a place in my heart for Jeremy,” Cam wrote in an e-mail to Teresa.

Teresa can’t thank the athlete enough for his compassion and composure. Because of his swift actions, she was able to be inside the emergency room before the ambulance bearing Jeremy arrived.

“I have thanked God almost every day of the last seven years and I have prayed that he would not die alone when the time came,” Teresa wrote in an e-mail to Cam.

“Now I thank God for you in giving us those few precious moments. Jeremy was conscious when he first arrived at the hospital and knew that I was there and for that I will be forever grateful to you.”

Back in 2002 I dubbed Jeremy a poster boy “for both the miracles of modern medicine and the importance of donating organs.”

That still holds. Far too many people still die or suffer needlessly during their wait for organs.

So check your driver’s license. If you don’t see the words “organ donor” then do something about it.

If you need motivation consider this: Jeremy made sure that both his corneas would be transplanted after he died.

“It’s so cool,” said Teresa. “Jeremy got to pay it forward and someone is able to see.”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at dougc@spokesman.com.


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