Colorado teacher adopts sick student to help him stay on kidney transplant list

Finn Lanning goes above and beyond to help 13-year-old student

By Frank McGeorge, MD - Medical Expert, Derick Hutchinson

AURORA, Colo. - A lot of teachers go above and beyond to help their students, but one math teacher in Colorado is raising the bar even higher by offering his student a home and a chance for much more.

After learning one of his seventh graders needed a stable home in which to stay while on the kidney transplant list, AXL Academy math teacher Finn Lanning agreed to adopt 13-year-old Damien.

The teen is a self-proclaimed foodie because he's on a strict diet.

"Just to eat something that I know that I made -- that's pretty cool," Damien said. "I got diagnosed with FSGS photosynthesis encephalopathia."

Damien needs a kidney transplant.

"I'm on the list and at the top because I've been on dialysis for so long," Damien said.

He's getting a second chance at life because of Lanning.

"Who am I? So, I teach seventh- and eighth-grade math at AXL Academy," Lanning said. "I'm Damien's teacher."

The two met in August, when school started.

"One day, he showed up and just said he wasn't going to be back anymore, and when I questioned him about that, he told me that he was going back to live in the hospital," Lanning said.

It wasn't because Damien was too sick to stay at home.

"Over the course of the years, I ended up in foster homes because of my medical needs," Damien said.

He's had to live in the hospital for months or years at a time.

"Over that time, I started out going in to give him his work and just hang out with him a little bit and keep him caught up in the classroom," Lanning said.

He learned that Damien was facing a hurdle in his fight to get on the transplant list.

"When you're living in the hospital, you're not able to be on the transplant list because folks who don't have stable housing are considered high risk for their organ to not work," Lanning said. "It just became really hard for me to look the other way."

Now, Damien is living with Lanning.

"It's going good," Damien said. "I've got my own room now."

"It's been weird," Lanning said. "Like, at first he still called me mister a lot."

It's a small sacrifice for Damien to be able to get a kidney and start a new chapter of his life. He received a call that a new kidney was available, but it turned out to be too damaged to use. Officials are hoping another organ will be available soon.

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