Jakob Jasin, 17, and Grace Haddad, 16, recently went on their first date to the homecoming dance
Jakob Jasin and Grace Haddad’s parents never imagined that a romance would develop between their kids.
Jasin, 17, and Haddad, 16, first met in 2001 as infants, both suffering from the deadly Maple Syrup Urine Disease — a recessive metabolic disorder where the body is unable to process protein normally. In 2004, they both underwent liver transplants at a Pittsburgh hospital just weeks apart and remained friends since. Now, their relationship has grown into something more.
“She knows everything I’ve gone through and it’s so easy to open up to her and talk to her,” Jasin, of Ashburn, Virginia, tells PEOPLE. “We have literally spent hours just talking and it feels like it’s only been a few minutes.”
Jasin and Haddad have maintained a lifelong friendship over the years, with the duo attending the Camp Chihopi Liver & Intestine Transplant Summer Camp. Their moving story made headlines earlier this month after Jasin asked Haddad to his school’s homecoming dance.
Jasin’s mother, Susan, recalls the moment she knew something was different about the friends when she went to pick up her son after their most recent trip to camp.
“I just knew. He was standing a little closer, hanging on her words a little more. As soon as he got in the car I said, ‘Is there something you want to tell me?’ Susan tells PEOPLE. “He said, ‘Well, I really like her. She’s a really good friend and she understands me.’ “
Jasin soon asked Haddad to the homecoming dance at Rock Ridge High School. The Sept. 23 outing marked their first official date.
“It was amazing,” Haddad says of the dance. “It was comforting because he’s a friend and it wasn’t like I was just with someone new that I liked on a first date. It was a lot more comforting than it would’ve been for anyone because we were best friends.”
Jasin adds: “It was wonderful, I couldn’t have asked for a better technical first date. Everything was incredible, getting to dance with her. And she just looked stunning. I was happy to be there.”
Although they’ve enjoyed the attention from the sweet story, both Jasin and Haddad say they hope it raises awareness about their condition and the importance of organ donation.
If left untreated, Maple Syrup Urine Disease — which gets its name from the distinctive sweet odor of affected infants’ urine — could cause severe brain damage, Dr. George Mazariegos of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC told ABC News. Mazariegos, who performed the surgeries, told ABC that the transplants allowed Haddad and Jasin to have a “normal” life.
Now, Susan says the innocent romance makes her “smile” because she and Haddad’s mother, Oula, weren’t sure of their kids’ fate.
“The disease they were born with is very volatile … MSUD is very unforgiving,” she says, noting that Haddad and Jasin now have to take medication, undergo blood work and maintain a certain diet due to the illness. “When they were little, we didn’t know what the future would look like for them.”
She adds: “It’s good to have this kind of friendship and source of support for each other. No one can truly understand what they go through except for them. So, this gives them an outlet to discuss things when they get hard, and they do get hard sometimes.”
Both families are looking forward to seeing where the romance goes, and both Jasin and Haddad tell PEOPLE that they’re hoping their next big date will be prom.
“He’s really sweet and funny,” Haddad says of Jasin. “He’s a best friend so I can get along with him so well. We have a lot in common and we both feel very comfortable around each other. We can talk about anything.”