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Heart transplant patient first to graduate from Duke Hospital School –

By: Heather Moore

DURHAM – High school graduation is always an important milestone in someone’s life. But for a special graduate in Durham, it’s literally the beginning of a brand new life.

Courtney Montgomery had a heart transplant in 2011, but had some major complications, which she almost didn’t survive.

She looks like most other high school graduates. But in her young life, Courtney Montgomery has gone through more than many of us will ever face in a lifetime.

Since having a heart transplant in 2011, Courtney has spent more time at Duke Medical Center than at her home in Asheville.

She lived at Duke, went to school at Duke, and when she suffered complications from her transplant, she nearly died at Duke.

“I had died and came back,” she said. “[It was] cardiac arrest, having to be resuscitated for 45 minutes. It’s just very scary to think about now.”

“When you wake up off life support and you’re being asked to do homework, it’s a little overwhelming,” said her mother, Michelle Mescall.

So, on Friday, Courtney, her family and her Duke family are celebrating her life and her accomplishment: Graduating from high school.

“I know great things are in store for Courtney. She’s given me much more than I could ever give her,” said Amanda Headley, her teacher.

“Courtney, you have touched many lives through your personal journey of healing and survival,” said Kevin Sowers, Duke University Hospital president.

Courtney got her heart from Jordan Benkert, who died his senior year before he could graduate. So in a way, she’s now fulfilling a dream for both of them.

“God has blessed us in so many ways,” said Mescall. “From the initial gift of life we received, and we’ve come full circle. We’re living life now. We’re not waiting to die.”

Duke Hospital School serves on average about 250 students a year. But in the more than 50-year history of the school, this is the first time a student has graduated from the school.

“Typically, what kids would do is stay in the hospital and receive treatment and go home and graduate with their home class,” said Richard Lemke, Duke Hospital School principal.

But Courtney is obviously comfortable to be in a class all of her own.

Durham Public Schools runs the Duke Hospital School. Montgomery plans to take it easy this summer. She wants to go to college, but not right away.

She also wants to start a charity foundation to help other pediatric transplant patients.

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