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8th Grader Credits His School For Helping Save His Life

DENVER (CBS4) – It's the season of graduations and celebratory school events. One of the continuations held this week was at the Morgridge Academy -- the only K-8 school in the country located on a medical campus.

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Tears and cheers were common at Wednesday's ceremony as families celebrated eight students taking the next step in their education.

"Today is such a special day because my son is graduating 8th grade!" Angie Cavazos said, beaming with pride for her son. "It's such an exciting day for us."

Her son, Dane Cuesta, is simply happy to even be at the ceremony.

"It's mind-blowing to think that I made it this far," he told CBS4's Kelly Werthmann.

That's because Dane is a living miracle.

"He was born with a surfactant deficiency," his mother explained. "Basically, your lungs produce this liquid form to make your lungs pliable. Dane's did not produce that."

The genetic disorder Dane was born with makes it next to impossible to breathe. To save his life, Dane had a double lung transplant when he was just four months old. He's among the few pediatric patients to survive such a procedure.

"I didn't think I'd make it to high school, honestly," Dane said.

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As he approaches his 15th birthday, Dane continues to beat the odds. He gives a lot of credit to the Morgridge Academy, the school he's attended since kindergarten.

"It made things easier and I made a lot of friends here," said Dane.

Located on the National Jewish Health campus, Morgridge Academy serves children with chronic illnesses. From asthma to cystic fibrosis or any condition that needs to be treated during the day.

"A lot of schools in the Denver metro area, and all across Colorado, don't necessarily have full-time nurses, especially at the elementary level," said Jennifer McCullough, Education Director and principal of Morgridge Academy. "We have three nurses who take care of the kids' medical needs as the day goes on so they don't have to miss school."

McCullough, who worked as a teacher at the school for many years before becoming principal, said Morgridge Academy gives children like Dane a regular school experience.

"Where he can be just like any kid without an illness," she said. "The nurses take such good care of him that he can do PE, he do fine arts, he can do all of his classes just like any other kid in the country."

Like all students, those at Morgridge Academy faced some educational challenges during the pandemic.

"If you think about the illnesses our students have and the illness that Dane battles, their resilience is just incredible," she said.
And, attending the continuation to receive his certificate of completion was an incredible achievement for Dane. Now, he said he's ready for the next chapter of his miraculous life.

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"I had a good 9 years here," he said of Morgridge Academy. "Next year, I'll be going to Colorado's Finest in Englewood."

Dane said his dream is to graduate from high school and one day work with two other Coloradans who inspire him.

"Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park," Dane said with a smile.

Morgridge Academy currently serves 55 students, but McCullough explained there is room for 75 children with chronic illnesses. The school is free for kids to attend, all that's needed is a doctor's recommendation.

"Most of the time that's just any kid who has an illness who needs treatment during the school day," she said.

To learn more about Morgridge Academy and its admission process, visit: https://www.nationaljewish.org/education/morgridge-academy

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