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Back in school with a new heart

Shovon Greene heads to class at Northeast High on Monday.


Shovon Greene heads to class at Northeast High on Monday.

With 20 minutes left in the first day of school on Monday, American literature teacher Erin Parke gave her students an assignment.

"I want you to free write,'' she told the Northeast High School juniors. "The topic is, 'My hopes and dreams for this school year.' "

The class groaned.

Except for the boy sitting near the back of the room.

He quietly took out a black binder and started writing.

The chatter started five minutes later. But the boy's pen kept moving.

When the final bell rang 16-year-old Shovon Greene had listed some of the usual high school goals.

Bring his grades up.

Look for scholarships.

And one that was his alone.

Stay in school the whole year without going to the hospital.

• • •

As a sophomore, Shovon blended in at the Pinellas high school of roughly 2,000 students. His older brother, Justin, who graduated from Gibbs High last year, was the more boisterous one.

Only a few of his close friends knew this: There was something wrong with Shovon's heart. In fact, shortly after he was born doctors discovered several things wrong with this heart.

Only one side had developed. And his heart cavity was on the right side of his chest, instead of the left. By age 10, Shovon had undergone six surgeries — and had a pacemaker.

Doctors hoped that would take care of it. Maybe Shovon wouldn't need a transplant.

But a month into his sophomore year, Octaverie Hall started to see troubling signs in her youngest son. He was sweating more, running out breath faster and got tired quicker.

The doctor's verdict: Shovon needed a new heart.

He never went back to Northeast.

• • •

Schools can be close-knit communities, even one as big as Northeast. And they are good at rallying around one of their own, raising money and mobilizing students, parents, teachers.

"Our staff really wrapped their arms around Shovon and his mom," said principal Paula Nelson, who sent out regular updates to the staff.

Shovon got a new heart on Nov. 11.

Life isn't easy after a transplant. There are gobs of medication to take. Tons of tests. Months of isolation. The risk of infection was too high.

He finished his sophomore courses online. It was hard being cooped up inside, he said. "Sometimes it was like, 'get me out of here,' " he said.

In June, Shovon's doctors finally gave him the green light to join the real teen world. He could have friends over. He could go to the movies. He could sit in the front seat of a car.

By that time, the summer months had set it. They seemed an eternity to Shovon.

"He just kept saying, 'I can't wait to go back to school, I can't wait to go back to school,' " said Hall, 49.

• • •

In the halls of Northeast High on Monday, Shovon became a magnet.

Gone: his hospital mask and gown, replaced by black sneakers, faded jeans and a white T-shirt with the words "I am a 1994 miracle," in red letters

Old friends caught up with him, giving him high-fives. His ninth-grade math teacher gave him a hug. A past reading teacher swore he had gotten taller. A television crew pulled him out of the cafeteria for an interview.

"I'm thrilled," Nelson said. "Today, he's just another kid."

In fifth-period language arts, the girl in the next row over wanted to know what was on Shovon's shirt.

He turned so she could read the back: "An organ donor saved my life," it read, in the same red lettering that was on the front. "Become an organ donor today!"

She nodded. The conversation turned to more important things, like comparing schedules.

"Oh, you have Spanish, too?!"

As he hurried to the band room for his first class. A camera clicked, capturing every move.

A girl passing by whispered to the boy next to her.

"Is that kid famous or something?"

By the end of the school day, Shovon had gotten used to the attention.

"I wasn't sure how it was going to go," he said. "I was nervous at first. But everything just fell together and went smoothly."

And he was already starting to blend back in.

He may try out for the swim team. And he can't wait to learn how to drive.

Times photographer Scott Keeler contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at or (727) 893-8643.

Back in school with a new heart 08/22/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 24, 2011 7:17pm]
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