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SAN DIEGO — Nehemiah Maldonado represents strength in the eyes of his family and staff at Rady Children’s Hospital after what he had to go through to survive a one-of-a-kind surgery.

The 13-year-old boy is the first at the renowned San Diego children’s hospital to ever receive a heart and kidney transplant within days of each other. And the toughest part for Maldonado was not fighting for his life, but having to watch his parents cry because they were so worried about him. Now that’s true strength.

“When I first started, I was more sad the whole time, and I don’t know, I just learned to be happy and grateful. And I really am, it’s crazy,” Maldonado said.

His parents are equally thankful, but they were emotional wrecks when they first realized what their son needed to do to have a future.

“I could barely even function, but I knew I was with him the whole way, sleeping right there by his side. But I just couldn’t function. It’s hard to see your child going through that,” his mother said.

Maldonado’s father explained that his son is showing him how to be strong and is teaching everybody a lesson.

“It’s amazing how a little kid can change everything,” his father said. “A few months ago my son was fighting for his life, now he’s living his life. He’s starting a new chapter. We are all starting a new chapter.”

Although the donor is gone, Maldonado’s parents say he lives on through their brave son.

Maldonado expressed his gratitude to the doctors and nurses and other members of Rady’s staff who have given him a new lease on life while treating him so well throughout the entire process.

The teen and his family will spend the next few months living at San Diego’s Ronald McDonald House as he continues to recover. He says being kind and loving his family has made his recovery much easier.

Speaking of his future, Maldonado wants to become a nurse or a therapist some day because he wants kids to feel better about themselves, especially if they have to go through a medical ordeal like he did.