“Don’t say, ‘I can’t,'” Principal Karen Bukowski told Forest Park Middle School’s Class of 2010 at the commencement ceremony last Wednesday night.

Among the hard-working eighth-graders who paraded across the Proviso East stage in green satin caps and gowns June 2, the can-do spirit glowed in Tashaun Hamilton, the student who months ago had had a heart transplant.

When Tashaun, 14, came to Forest Park Middle School last fall, she wasn’t feeling well.

“I was tired and couldn’t keep my food down,” she recalls. By September, she got a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy – a weakness of the heart muscle that causes enlargement of the heart and can result in sudden death. She was put on a Pacemaker. In January, she could no longer attend school and was put on a list for a heart transplant.

Her twin brother, Taquan, a quiet, polite boy who also entered Forest Park Middle School this year, has the same condition. His heart is checked every six months. The twins lost their mom to cardiomyopathy just before they’d turned 6.

Tawan Hamilton, the children’s dad, works two jobs, one at UPS and the other at a Chicago YMCA. He moved his family to Forest Park last year from Chicago.

Throughout all their struggles, the twins’ closeness was clear, says their principal.

“When Tashaun was ill, Taquan would ride the bus with her, help her with her books. There was definitely that twin bond between them,” Bukowski said. She often brought Taquan into her office, where they would telephone Tashaun in her hospital room and put her on speakerphone so the three could talk.

“We were all on pins and needles, waiting and hoping,” Bukowski said, recalling the wait for a donor heart to appear.

A bout with strep throat kept Bukowski from being able to visit Tashaun during her long hospital stay, but she kept touch via the hospital’s blog. One Saturday, an e-mail alerted her to a new message on the blog – Tashaun was receiving her new heart. The transplant operation was in March.

All along, Tashaun, who was recently inducted into the National Junior Honor Society – maintaining a minimum 3.25 GPA on a 4.0 scale – never permitted her health to interfere with her schoolwork. Bukowski said Tashaun diligently did her schoolwork at home and in the hospital and “didn’t miss an assignment – she was always asking for more work!”

Nurses, Bukowski said, would find Tashaun happily doing her algebra. She also managed to complete her service hours for National Junior Honor Society by tutoring other kids at Children’s Memorial.

“I liked all my doctors and nurses,” she said, but being stuck in the hospital was “boring”.

“The day I got out it was raining,” she said, “but I wanted it to be hot!”

A cheerful Tashaun, relaxing at home with her family last weekend, noted she was never scared even when she felt the worst. She wears a MedicAlert pendant on a chain around her neck and her grandmother pointed out Tashaun now walks a lot more, something she had little desire to do before the surgery.

The family credits the support of their church, Rock of Ages in Maywood, and their YMCA family, with whom they will be traveling to Ohio this summer.

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