AURORA, Colo. – They started the school year as strangers and they are ending the year as family.
“I started this school year like a regular school year and Damien like a regular student,” AXL Academy math teacher Finn Lanning said.
Lanning said the seventh-grade student is exceptionally bright.
“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.
Damien has a kidney disorder called FSGS, which requires dialysis for 12 hours each day. He is in desperate need of a new kidney.
According to Lanning, the 13-year-old wasn’t eligible for a transplant because he is homeless.
“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 not to work,” Lanning said.
Damien ended up in the foster care system due to his medical needs. When a suitable homestay can’t be found, he is forced to live in the hospital. During that time, he can’t leave to attend school.
“He spent, at that point, three or four months living in the hospital waiting for a placement. And 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,” Lanning said.
Lanning decided to step in, and despite not having any child of his own, he offered to take Damien in.
“It’s going good. Like, I got my own room now,” Damien said.
He has also been moved to the top of the waiting list for a new kidney. He is hoping he can have the transplant within the next two weeks.
In addition to a second chance at life, he is also getting a second chance at having a family.
“We’re planning on just staying together. Hoping for adoption, probably,” Damien said.
Lanning was not fully financially prepared to suddenly take on a teenager. Due to Damien’s strict diet, their food bill is between $200 to $300 per week. He has had help from the community getting Damien basic things like bedroom furniture.
The new family could still use help with the extra expenses. If you’d like to donate, they have set up a GoFundMe account.