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Teenage heart transplant recipient headed home after his long road to recovery

The Culver City 8th grader has been staying with his family at the Ronald McDonald house in San Diego for the past few months since the surgery.

SAN DIEGO — CBS 8 has been following the story of a teenager who needed a new heart, and finally, we can bring you the happy ending. 14-year-old Mario Luna has been on the road to recovery after his heart transplant back in January, and CBS 8’s Brian White was at Rady Children’s Hospital for his grand sendoff.

“I just want to thank everyone for doing their best and working hard enough to do every opportunity to save my life and to help me get better,” said Luna to dozens of doctors and nurses who gathered to applaud and cheer him. “Thank you, guys, I really appreciate it.”

The Culver City 8th grader has been staying with his family at the Ronald McDonald house for the past few months since the surgery.

“It feels like I have a brand new car and it really feels like I am back to business, ready to play on the court again,” said Luna.

In Orange County, doctors told Mario and his family that he suffered from cardiomyopathy, which apparently was genetic.  At that point, he was transported to Rady Children’s Hospital, where they performed 54 heart transplants in only 8 years.

“He came to us incredibly sick on the highest degree of support possible, on the cardiopulmonary bypass machine.  He was sedated at the time, his heart was barely squeezing,” said Shilpa Vellore, a cardiovascular ICU doctor. “Once he got his transplant, he started pushing to get back to his pre-arrest shape immediately.”

Mario gets VIP tour of CBS 8 Studios in April during his recovery:

Mario’s father couldn’t be prouder of his son or more grateful for the staff at Rady Children’s.

“I’ve been telling everybody that they’re my family away from my original family.  That’s how supportive they’ve been of everything,” said Mario Luna, Sr.

For the surprise sendoff, hospital staff wrote inspiring messages on posterboards for him.

“We’re so proud of how far you’ve come,” said Mario while reading one of the messages out loud to the crowd. “Congratulations on finally heading home.”

As for what’s next, this star-in-the-making is anxious to get back to what he loves.

“I am planning to get back on the basketball court and prove to all the people that I am ready to become one of the NBA’s greatest of all time,” said Luna.

Then it was time to head home with his family, and with a new lease on life, but he’ll be back to San Diego once a week for physical therapy sessions at Rady Children’s.

WATCH: How a stomachache turned into a heart transplant at Rady Children's Hospital:

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