West Haven, Connecticut (AP) — Thursday was a beautiful day for Rajay Linton on several counts.
In the morning, he went back to Harry M Bailey Middle School for the first time since having a heart transplant last April — and with all activity restrictions now lifted, was able to take part in gym class for the first time ever.
Then, Thursday evening, Rajay, 14, and eight members of his family joined two volunteers from the Make A Wish Foundation at Red Lobster in North Haven — Rajay’s favourite restaurant — to celebrate another important milestone: Rajay and his aunt and adopted mother, Blossom Linton King, becoming US citizens last week, on August 21.
They also celebrated Linton King’s birthday, which was Thursday.
The move toward citizenship, along with Rajay being adopted by his aunt and uncle, Cyril King, were among the things that helped Rajay get on the transplant list at New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children Hospital, where he received his heart.
The Make A Wish Foundation, which grants wishes for children facing life-threatening illnesses — most of whom want to go to Disney World — in Rajay’s case helped negotiate the US Department of Homeland Security’s red tape to ease the path to citizenship.
US Rep Rosa L DeLauro, D-3, also was involved, the Make A Wish Foundation volunteers said.
“I’m so grateful,” said Linton King, thanking Make A Wish Foundation volunteers John Scanlon of Wallingford and Georgianna Hull of North Haven for all their help. “They’re just wonderful.
“I don’t know what would have happened if they hadn’t help me get through all the paperwork,” said Linton King, who, like Rajay, the son of her late brother, Michael Linton, was born in Jamaica. “Thank God for Make A Wish Foundation.
“This has been a long time coming,” she said.
The West Haven and West Haven Public Schools community also have supported Rajay and his family, including by donating nearly $8,000 to an online GoFundMe campaign.
As he sat at the table surrounded by family, Rajay was quietly thankful for something else.
He said he was most thankful “for having all of them here with me.”
Rajay was born with a damaged heart and lost his mother, grandfather, father and grandmother in relatively quick succession while growing up in his native Jamaica.
“We’re all just really happy that he’s healthy and here,” one of Linton King’s older daughters, Lannay Wiggins, said.
Cyril King, who at this point remains a Jamaican citizen, said that where Rajay and the family are now is a far better place than where they were a few months ago.
It used to be that “sometimes I’d wake up and see if he was still alive,” King said. “Now I don’t have to do that anymore … Now he has an unlimited life to live.”
Rajay, Linton King and King also were joined by siblings and cousins Calcian Anderson, CJ King, Shamala Seville, Alantre Anderson and Johann Greene, all of West Haven.
Hull and Scanlon took the family out to celebrate at what Make A Wish Foundation calls a “Wish Delivery Party.”
Earlier in the day, Rajay took a few minutes at school to reflect on what it was like to go back.
“Pretty good — I get to see my friends again,” he said when asked how he felt about returning to school. When he returned, “some of them came and helped me,” he said.
Assistant Principal Valerie Bruneau, noting that on Thursday, “he’ll be in gym for the first time,” said she was “was very excited to be able to schedule him into gym this year.”
Rajay said the summer was spent “running and walking — walking my dog,” although as he healed from his surgery he also did a lot of hanging around the house.
For much of the time, “I didn’t really feel like doing anything,” Rajay said.
The best part about being back in school?
“A new class, a new grade, new teachers,” Rajay said. “I can’t wait to see what the future has to offer.”