Barrow, High School Staff Hold Graduation Ceremony for Teen Patient

A Southern California high school student received his high school diploma while hospitalized in Arizona with paralyzing injuries from a diving accident in March.

Dylen Damico-Rager, who is currently undergoing intensive neuro-rehabilitation at Barrow Neurological Institute located at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, was greeted by his high school faculty, friends, and family who traveled from California for the special cap and gown graduation ceremony.

“It’s really cool and special that my high school faculty and my medical team are doing this for me,” says Dylen, 18. “It’s not the way I planned my graduation, but I’m so grateful for their support and the opportunity to wear my cap and gown and receive my diploma.”

Dylen was scheduled to graduate with his class at Cypress High School in Cypress, California, on May 25. However, on March 25, he suffered a severe spinal cord injury and became paralyzed after making a shallow dive into a river near Yuma, Arizona while on vacation.

“After the impact of the dive, Dylen lost movement in his arms and legs, was carried in the current, and nearly drowned,” says Sarah Samayoa, Dylen’s mother. “Thankfully, his friends were able to find him and start CPR. Paramedics on scene resuscitated him.”

Dylen was airlifted to the Level-I Trauma Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. St. Joseph’s trauma surgeons worked to stabilize him and neurosurgeons from the hospital’s Barrow Neurological Institute performed a cervical spinal fusion surgery to fuse his spine. After spending three weeks in the hospital’s ICU, Dylen began neuro-rehabilitation at Barrow’s inpatient Neuro-Rehabilitation Center where he is currently undergoing intensive physical, occupational, and speech therapy.

“Dylen is a brave young man showing incredible courage and determination as he takes on this challenge of rehabilitation after a spinal cord injury,” says Matthias Linke, DO, director of spinal cord injury rehabilitation at Barrow’s Neuro-Rehabilitation Center. “Fortunately, he has sensation below his neck injury and therefore has a good prognosis to continue to recover.”

Not wanting Dylen to miss out on his high school graduation, his high school guidance counselor worked with hospital staff to plan a cap and gown graduation ceremony at the hospital. The momentous occasion featured a special video produced by Cypress High School, the official diploma presentation, turning of the tassel, and speakers including Dylen, his high school principal, and his medical team.

Dylen is a brave young man showing incredible courage and determination as he takes on this challenge of rehabilitation after a spinal cord injury.

Matthias Linke, DO, Director of Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation, Barrow Neurological Institute

“Dylen is the epitome of a Cypress High School Centurion,” says Kevin Hodgson, Ed.D, principal of Cypress High School. “He is well liked by his peers, teachers, and staff and is a big part of our Cypress High community. We know that he has a strong resilience to him and look forward to his recovery. I’m so thankful that Ms. Vaughn, Dylen’s guidance counselor, spearheaded this special event as he is well deserving of this ceremony. We can’t wait for him to come home.”

Dylen and his family are optimistic for the future and grateful for all the support they have received throughout his recovery.

“Dylen’s injury has been heartbreaking, but we are very grateful he survived,” says Sarah. “The kindness and support from our friends, family, medical team, and his high school have been incredible. We are forever thankful.”

In the News

KTAR: California teen has graduation ceremony in Arizona hospital