Speed Reads

It wasn't all bad

After finding out his student needed a kidney transplant, teacher steps up to make it happen

Finn Lanning was surprised when one of his new students, a "studious and smart and funny" 12-year-old named Damien, came up to him before Thanksgiving in 2018 and said he wouldn't be returning after the holiday break.

Lanning is a math and science teacher at AXL Academy in Aurora, Colorado. Damien told him that he has an autoimmune diseases called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, which affects his kidneys. He was in foster care, but because of his medical needs, they couldn't find the right placement for him, and he was going to have to move into the hospital. Soon after, his kidneys shut down, and he had to have dialysis treatments for 12 hours every day.

Lanning visited Damien once a week, and was stunned when he learned that Damien needed a kidney transplant, but without stable housing, wasn't eligible to be on the donation list. It didn't matter to Lanning that he had no experience as a parent — he had to be there for Damien. He applied to be his foster father, and last March, was approved. "I'd really thought a lot about this decision," Lanning told People. "I didn't want to be another person in a long line who'd made a commitment to him and then couldn't keep it. I wanted him to trust me and feel comfortable."

Damien was put on the list, and in June, underwent a kidney transplant. Because of complications with his autoimmune disease, he had to go through two months of intense treatments, but has been in remission since September. Damien went back to school in August, and enjoys swimming, playing sports, and cooking with Lanning. "You kind of lose hope after awhile when you're living in the hospital," he told People. "But now I can settle in, go to school, make friends, and live a good life." Seeing the world through Damien's eyes has brought a new joy to Lanning, who "never expected this to be my life, but I'm so happy it is. We're in it together." Watch a video of the pair from 2019 below. Catherine Garcia