Stories of teachers going above and beyond for their students are not unusual. From cheering on their students’ classroom accomplishments in creative ways to making sure their students can enjoy field trips despite their health conditions, we’ve gotten used to hearing heartwarming stories that highlight how much teachers care.
In this case, a teacher in Colorado has made it possible for one of his 13-year-old students to get a kidney transplant, and is helping him recover — by fostering the student with the aim of eventually adopting him.
Back in 2018, math and science teacher Finn Lanning had a conversation with a student that changed his life. Damien, then 12, told his new teacher that he would have to leave school after Thanksgiving. Damien has focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), which he was diagnosed with at age 8. The disease damaged his kidneys so severely that he needed a kidney transplant. He was also in the foster care system.
“A few weeks before the winter holiday, the relative he was staying with had to make the difficult decision to return him to county custody,” Lanning writes on a GoFundMe page he set up to raise money for Damien’s health needs. “Having a typical 13-year-old in your home can be a significant challenge for anyone, and Damien’s additional needs proved too much for his caregiver.”
Damien spent several months that winter living at the hospital, and Lanning went to visit him at Denver’s Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center every week. At this time, the boy’s kidneys had shut down and he was on dialysis 12 hours a day. However, he was taken off the waiting list for getting a kidney transplant because he had no stable home environment where he could go to recover.
That’s when Lanning intervened in a more significant way. He wrote, “Unable to keep his challenges off my heart and mind, I began the personal journey of considering taking on his care.”
Becoming a parent to the teenager involved learning how to take care of his medical and dietary needs and committing to his financial needs as well. Lanning took time off work for this training and started going through the foster care certification process. Damien moved in with Lanning in February 2019, and Lanning qualified to be a foster parent in March — and it looks like that made all the difference.
In May, Damien was re-listed on the kidney transplant waitlist, and on June 14, 2019, he received a new kidney after a previous false start. The transplant apparently brought back his FSGS, however, which required chemotherapy and plasmapheresis to treat, so the journey hasn’t been totally smooth.
Lanning posted a happy update after the successful operation in June. Damien even finally got to meet his foster dad’s family in Wichita, Kansas, during his recovery process.
The latest update on the GoFundMe page came last week, on Feb. 20. Lanning notes that Damien is back in school, making new friends, eating new foods and playing sports, and has grown past 5 feet.
“His new kidney is functioning great,” the teacher says. “There continues to be a need for close and frequent monitoring of various health conditions to ensure his kidney can last a long time and that he can live his best life, but all the news is positive!”
This is great to hear! We hope we’ll continue to hear good news about this young man and his adoptive father.