His name is Damien, last name unknown, and he is 13 years old. Let me tell you a bit about Damien. He was placed in foster care at a very early age, and as so often happens, has been bounced from one foster home to another. When he was eight years old, Damien’s kidneys both stopped working and he was diagnosed with a serious kidney disease, focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. The only cure is a kidney transplant, and meanwhile Damien must spend more than 12 hours per day hooked to a dialysis machine.
There is a rule in the medical community about transplant recipients … they must have a stable home — homeless people are not placed on the list because they tend to have more complications. Much of the time, Damien’s only home has been a hospital, when foster homes have not worked out, often because of the intensive care and restrictive diet that Damien requires. As a result, Damien has been on and off the transplant list for the past five years.
Early last year, a relative took Damien in and once again he was back on the transplant list. His mental and physical health improved, and he was able to enroll in the AXL Academy in Aurora, Colorado. Enter math teacher, Finn Lanning. Says Finn …
“Although he has significant health challenges, he is an excellent student and a kind, generous, and motivated human being.”
Sadly, after caring for Damien for several months, last fall the relative decided that Damien’s additional needs were simply too much, and she was no longer able to care for Damien. The decision was made to return him to the custody of the county. The county would be sending him back to the hospital where he had spent much of his young life, sometimes for months at a time, once even for a full year. He would once again be removed from the transplant list.
On what was to be his last day at school, Damien told his math teacher that he wouldn’t be back. Finn Lanning asked why, and he told him. Over the next few days, Finn couldn’t get Damien out of his mind.
“Over that time, I started out going in to give him his work and just hang out with him a little bit, keep him caught up in the classroom. And as I learned more about his story and what he was facing and what his needs were and why they weren’t being met, it just became really hard for me to look the other way.”
It wasn’t an immediate decision, Finn recalls …
“’No way! This is not something that I’m going to do.’ But as time went on, I felt a call to engage with it. I couldn’t just not do it. I didn’t see it as an option.”
So, in late December Finn began training to take care of young Damien, and Damien moved in with Finn earlier this year. When the community heard of the story, they began pitching in with a bed and assorted things Finn would need to provide a home for Damien. Damien’s dietary requirements are challenging and costly, and like any 13-year-old boy, Damien sometimes rebels and really wants nachos or fried chicken. Nonetheless, one of the things the two enjoy doing is cooking together!
Finn has to take time off work twice a week to take Damien to doctor’s appointments, and a number of his fellow-teachers have donated their vacation time so that he wouldn’t lose any pay. Damien doesn’t have his kidney yet, but they are hoping for soon … very soon. Meanwhile, the two are bonding, learning to live together, and … perhaps the best part … Finn is planning to adopt Damien! First things first, he says, and the first priority is getting the kidney, but after that he plans to adopt him.