AUGUSTA, Ga. (WFXG) - All Cedric Thomas, Jr. wants for his birthday this year is to say, "thank you."

“Today is my birthday. It’s a celebration of life, for myself and for everyone around me who has supported me and given me life through their support for the past year,” Thomas says.

Back in 2021, FOX54 told you about Thomas, his rare heart defect called Ebstein anomaly, and his second chance at life following a heart transplant. Thomas says making it through risky surgeries is evidence that he has business to complete on this earth.

"I know I'm here for a reason. I survived. I got a second chance."

His father, Cedric Thomas, Sr. says he wasn't always sure his son would see another birthday.

"Definitely was a question he might not make it," says Thomas, Sr. "He coded twice [during surgery] and [medical staff] had to do emergency measures to bring him back. For him to be here today is a blessing. A blessing is an understatement."

Thomas emphasizes that, while his family is celebrating him on his birthday, he's celebrating something else: embarking on a new calling. "Ced Strong" was a rally cry, a show of support, for Thomas while he was battling illness. He says he now hopes it will become a message of hope for others in similar situations.

"It's a community," he said, "it's a family. We're bonded by this thing we have in common--chronic illness."

He plans to launch the foundation soon with the help of those who supported him on his journey, and with one specific person in mind--his late friend, Lex.

"She passed away in college," he explains, "she had Lupus. But we always had each other to talk to about what it's like to grow up with chronic illness."

He hopes the Ced Strong community will be a way for other children to have a friend like Lex, one who is able to understand the struggles of fighting life-threatening conditions.