- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Chris Riedman didn’t have an average graduation party.

Gateway to Science volunteered to host it, for one. The science center had never before held an event like it.

Four hundred people came to celebrate.

“It wasn’t just about making it through high school,” he said. “It was about making it through life.”

Growing up, Riedman wasn’t sure he would survive long enough to don a cap and gown. He has Crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel disease.

Persistent exhaustion was the first warning sign, prompting his parents to take him to the doctor, the Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/1LfUlPB ) reported.

“They kept saying he has stomach flu or school anxiety,” said his mother, Karol. “After he lost 38 pounds, we went to Mayo (Clinic).”

That was a decade ago. He has since made 90 trips to the clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for a host of treatments. Each new medicine typically worked for a few months until it wreaked havoc elsewhere in his body.

The 18-year-old has had more than 30 colonoscopies and hundreds of blood draws. As a younger child, he and the doctors tried to keep the mood light while he underwent these procedures.

“He got to the point where he would always say jokes,” Karol Riedman said. “We always knew when Chris stopped telling jokes, things were not so good.”

His mother, at times, would have to administer painful injections.

“I’d do the shot and leave the room and start to cry,” she said. “As a parent, you step up and do what has to be done.”

Chris Riedman’s health issues forced him to skip dozens of days of school each year. In some grades, he spent more days absent than in attendance.

“I was told by so many people that I wouldn’t make it, that I should either take a few more years or forget about the idea of graduating,” he said.

But he’s stubborn, and lately, timing’s been on his side. His health took an inexplicable turn for the better around Christmas 2013.

He took as many independent study classes as he could to catch up. Fall semester senior year, he finished six classes at home while taking a full course load at St. Mary’s Central High School.

He used curriculum from Seton, a Catholic school that designs coursework for home-schooled students.

It paid off. He received his diploma May 31, graduating as a commended student with a near-perfect GPA.

“It didn’t really hit me until I sat back in my seat,” he said. “This closed the chapter of my sickness. I made it through.”

Karol Rietman felt a mixture of emotions when her other kids graduated. Chris’s day, however, was different.

“It was just joyous,” she said.

Chris Riedman plans to study philosophy at the University of Mary and is considering a career as a religion teacher. He said the near-death experiences resulting from his health issues have brought him closer to God.

If his send-off to college is any indication, he’s got plenty of people cheering him on.

Beth Demke, executive director of Gateway to Science, watched him attend program after program at the science center as soon as he could walk. Now, he frequently goes there to volunteer.

His maturity and ability to rise above his health issues impress her most.

“He just keeps going,” she said.

A renowned NASA rocket scientist - one of Riedman’s biggest fans - echoed her words. Jack Bacon met Riedman several years ago during a visit to Gateway to Science.

The Houston-based scientist was so impressed by the boy that he invited him to one of the final shuttle launches in Florida.

Bacon wrote Riedman a letter just before graduation to let him know work duties would keep him busy during the party. But, he said, he and his wife hope to fly north soon for a visit.

“Of all the places we have traveled and of all the people we have encountered, you are without equal the most remarkable and inspiring person either of us have ever met,” he wrote. “We are so proud to know you.”

___

Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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