STATESVILLE, NC (WBTV) - A high school in Statesville recreated graduation for a student who was hospitalized after complications from an ATV crash.
South Iredell High School student Santi Rueda wasn't expected to be alive long enough to graduate as he has spent his life in a wheelchair, battling many physical challenges.
Santi's mom Serena Bolin-Mercer said that on Memorial Day weekend, they were visiting family in Alabama when they were involved in an ATV accident.
Bolin-Mercer said Santi came back home to finish his senior year, but an unknown complication occurred and he ended up in the hospital, missing his graduation.
"He was in ICU and was in a bit of a coma," said Mercer.
South Iredell's principal and several of his teachers came to see him in the hospital, but they also planned a graduation.
Students came dressed in cap and gown and teachers were there. Speeches were given and diplomas were handed out.
"I could not believe it. I was so shocked but so ecstatic. I would imagine most schools would just mail you your diploma if you can't make it," said Mercer. "It means everything, to be home with him. But this, he is my baby to."
"I am just really happy that some of my friends are back to graduate with me," said Santi Rueda. "I am just really happy to be a part of this family."
South Iredell High School teacher Susan Muzar was instrumental in organizing the graduation for Santi.
"I think in the last four years he's taught me more than I have ever taught him," Muzar said about Santi. "He has a good heart and a positive attitude. He's compassionate, concerned about others and is the first to say 'are you ok?"
Muzar spoke about the effect that Santi has on staff, teachers and students at the high school.
"When you've had a long day and want to give up, then you see his enthusiasm you want to go that extra mile," Muzar said. "He is so inspirational, kids look up to him. If there is a down moment, just his smile, the kids respond to it. He's well liked and respected. This is what he worked for and he deserved this. More than anyone. He deserved this."
Students came back from their summer break to be there for their friend.
"Santi deserved a nice graduation, a real graduation just like the rest of us," said Daniel Bonomo, the class president. "He is not by himself. He is part of the Viking family and we take care of ourselves."