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There was no band playing “Pomp and Circumstance.” The valedictorian didn’t speak. The graduate didn’t walk into the Ocean Center to cheering crowds.
But as 18-year-old Brandon Schwartz sat in a wheelchair Friday at Halifax Health Medical Center, wearing a cap and gown and holding his belated diploma, he said the same thing all high school graduates say:
“I did it!”
Later, he amended his statement.
“I barely did it. Barely.”
Schwartz wasn’t able to walk at his graduation ceremony at Flagler Palm Coast High School on May 30 because three weeks earlier he was in a major car crash. By the time of graduation, he was still on a ventilator, recovering from substantial injuries.
Schwartz was delivering pizzas for Hungry Howie’s around 7 p.m. on May 11 when, according to a report from the Florida Highway Patrol, he failed to stop at a stop sign and another driver T-boned his car in the intersection of County Road 302 and County Road 305.
The other driver was not injured, but Schwartz was airlifted to Halifax Health and taken into surgery for his injuries. His spleen was removed. Doctors had to repair his pancreas, liver, abdominal wall and ventricular vein. Fluid was drained from his heart. His ribs were broken in 10 places.
His mom, Patricia, said she had to wait for three hours without any information. She didn’t know if her son arrived at the hospital alive or dead. It was the night before Mother’s Day.
Now, almost a month later, he’s expected to make a full recovery. He’s learning to walk again. And he got his diploma, if a few days later than the rest of his class.
“It’s a miracle,” his dad Marc Schwartz said, thanking the hospital staff, first responders and God. “Brandon owes his life to these people and that’s a debt we can never repay. We’re so grateful.”
Brandon Schwartz lives in Ormond Beach, but attended FPC to play on the lacrosse team. Just days before the accident, he attended prom with his girlfriend, Kayla Tennant, wearing a tuxedo to match her blue dress. He planned to join the Air Force after graduation.
He doesn’t remember much about the accident, but his father said he’s going to remember his graduation ceremony.
FPC Principal Robert Wallace went to the hospital to present Schwartz with his diploma on the same day he announced plans to retire from his position at the end of this month.
“Well Brandon, we were very disappointed you couldn’t make the graduation ceremony,” Wallace said. To which Brandon replied, “Me too.”
People laughed, but it wasn’t much of a joke. By the time Brandon really woke up after his accident, graduation — the chance to say goodbye to the last four years of his life, be with his friends and celebrate the future — had passed.
“It sucks,” he said, and tears welled in his eyes. “I wanted to be there so bad.”
But in the inpatient rehabilitation center at Halifax Health in Daytona Beach, surrounded by friends, family and the medical staff helping him heal, he had a new perspective.
“I’m glad to be alive.”
He said he still plans to join the Air Force, but first he’ll go home from the hospital, to sleep and to recover.
He said he only had one thing to say about everything he’s been through: “Just drive safe.”