- Associated Press - Saturday, May 31, 2014

HOUSTON (AP) - Late in the evening on May 9, Harrison Bowe was overcome by abdominal pain so strong he collapsed. Home alone, the 19-year-old called 911, crawled out onto the street so paramedics could find him and take him to a Houston hospital just in time.

At the worst possible time for a high school senior.

“Before prom. Before finals. Before all the important things,” Bowe said Saturday, a grin spreading across his face, the tassel from his red graduation cap flopping forward.

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On the outside, Bowe looks like any high school senior - straight brown hair falls long over his ears and neck, his face is unwrinkled, his brown eyes are bright and curious. Inside, though, is evidence of the rare birth defect that nearly robbed Bowe not only of high school graduation but of life.

Bowe was born with a non-functioning bladder. Between the time he was 8 weeks old to the time he was 5 years old, he underwent a dozen operations until doctors were able to create a bladder from his intestine, explained Nancy Schnell, Bowe’s mother.

Although he still had to self-catheterize, Bowe has been relatively healthy since, attending school and enjoying time with his family and friends.

Until May 9, when for reasons yet unknown, the makeshift bladder sprung a rare leak, infecting his abdomen with toxic bacteria. Bowe went into septic shock and acute renal failure, said Dr. Lee Morris, the surgeon at Houston Methodist Hospital who conducted the emergency operation that saved Bowe’s life.

For five days in the intensive care unit, Schnell was focused on her son’s survival.

Bowe, though, had his eye on the prize.

“My first concern was school,” Bowe told the high school principal and counselor Saturday, explaining how, while he was still in the ICU, hooked up to a ventilator and unable to speak, he jotted down instructions about who to call at Bellaire High School so he could graduate.

“Your health is No. 1,” counselor Paige Talhouni responded with a smile.

Bowe’s high school diploma rested beside him, balloons with congratulation messages tied to his wheelchair. Pausing for a selfie with principal Michael McDonough, Bowe said he still wanted to thank his teachers, who had allowed him to forgo his final exams because he had straight As.

“I felt honored,” Bowe said, looking at McDonough, Talhouni and the district registrar who had come to the hospital to confer his diploma hours before his 700 classmates attend the official graduation. “All these people are going out of their way to graduate me.”

To Schnell, this is how it should be. Bowe may not be accustomed to the attention, she said, but he has worked hard to excel academically while monitoring a medical condition.

“He’s already earned this. We’re not going to let this get in the way,” his mother said, gesturing at the wheelchair and hospital surroundings. “In four years we’ll be going to a graduation at A&M;,” she added, referring to Bowe’s intention to study computer engineering at Texas A&M; University.


Plushnick-Masti can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RamitMastiAP .

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