Triway High School student who battled brain tumor beats all odds and graduates

WOOSTER, Ohio (WJW) — A high school student who wasn’t meant to live, let alone walk or talk again, fought twice against the brink of death and graduated Friday night.

Cristian Mendoza had just started his second year at Triway High School in Wooster when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the base of his skull and cerebellum.

One day he was at work and the next day he woke up in Akron Children’s Hospital.

“I was in a hospital bed like, ‘wait, what’s going on?’ People were like ‘you almost died’ so I was like ‘oh this is not good’,” Cristian said.

He may have wasted time, but not his sense of humor despite more than 20 surgeries over a two-year period and intensive physical therapy.

After the tumor was removed, he developed posterior fossa syndrome and had to relearn everything.

“He basically had to reconnect his brain and his body,” said Heather Garnes, Cristian’s mother. “He has to relearn how to walk, talk, eat, move his arms.”

Garnes eyes swell with tears when she thinks of the trip, how she almost lost Cristian and never thought she would see this day.

“No, I didn’t,” she said. “He’s an amazing kid, an amazing kid and he did it with humor, sarcasm and kindness.”

At the hospital, Crisitian was known for throwing silly rope battles with his neurosurgeon and bringing glitter bombs.

He is so loved that members of his care team attended the graduation ceremony, including an intensive care nurse and his occupational therapist, who were eager to see him walk the stage.

“Every time, no matter what is thrown at him, he shows up and does it with humor and finds a way to regain his independence,” said Brittany Holmes, OT of Akron Children’s Hospital.

She admits Cristian’s recovery was exhausting and included months of hospitalization and at least six hours a day of physiotherapy and speech therapy.

But through it all, he maintained his school work and as he headed towards his graduation, the crowd cheered and many cried, but Cristian took it all in stride.

“I really didn’t do anything. I hung on,” Cristian said.

The family says they are especially grateful to Akron Children’s Hospital and Triway High School, especially Principal Scott Wharton for all their help and support.

“When the world is falling apart, there are good people out there,” Garnes said.

In addition to his diploma, Cristian received the price of courage on Friday.

The district also announced that due to his perseverance and positive attitude, he will be giving his next name to a scholarship.

As for Cristian, he says he can’t wait to be able to hit the gym every day and get even stronger, get back to work and one day start his own family.

Martha K. Merrill