Teacher to adopt special-needs student and help him with kidney transplant: 'I could no longer look away'

A seventh-grade teacher in Colorado has gone beyond the call of duty by taking in a 13-year-old student who’s in desperate need of a kidney and a loving, stable home — and he hopes to eventually adopt the boy.

Finn Lanning told Yahoo Lifestyle he met the “resilient, funny, and smart” student, Damien, on the first day of the school year. But pretty soon, the boy informed his teacher that he wouldn’t be coming to class anymore. “When I asked him about that, he told me that he was going back to live in the hospital,” Lanning said.

Damien lives with a kidney disorder called FSGS, which he was diagnosed with early in life. The condition requires dialysis for 12 hours a day, every day, and Damien has been undergoing the treatment for years as he awaits a kidney transplant, Lanning wrote on a GoFundMe page set up for the boy.

Securing a kidney is hard enough for a typical person in need, but Damien’s living situation has made the task close to impossible.

Finn Lanning plans to adopt his 13-year-old student, Damien — but first, he hopes to see him through the experience getting a kidney transplant. (Photo: Courtesy of FOX31)
Finn Lanning plans to adopt his 13-year-old student, Damien — but first, he hopes to see him through the experience getting a kidney transplant. (Photo: Courtesy of FOX31)

Lanning said that over the summer, Damien was placed in a relative’s home and was able to be enrolled in AXL Academy, the charter school that landed him in Lanning’s math class. But right before the winter holiday, the boy’s relative was forced to return him to county custody, Lanning said.

“Having a typical 13-year-old in your home can be a significant challenge for anyone,” he wrote, “and Damien's additional needs proved too much for his caregiver.”

Lanning watched as Damien left right before the holiday season to spend “three or four” months in the hosptal, where he was to live until foster care officials could find him a new home. To make matters worse, Damien was removed from the transplant list when he moved out of his relative’s home.

Lanning and Damien cooking together at home. (Photo: Courtesy of Finn Lanning)
Lanning and Damien cooking together at home. (Photo: Courtesy of Finn Lanning)

“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 explained.

After learning the extent of Damien’s situation, Lanning, who has no children, said he “could no longer look away.” So he invited Damien to come live at his home. Lanning said he knows that caring for a teen will be challenging, but he feels his teaching experience will give him a leg up.

That said, Lanning knows he’ll need help — and he’s asking for it. Until the teacher completes his foster care certification, he has no financial assistance — which is why he started the GoFundMe page.

To date, Damien’s cause has raised $6,000 toward its goal of $7,500. Lanning plans to use the money for the boy’s basic needs, like bedroom furniture, transportation, medication and food, as Damien’s strict diet costs up to $300 in grocery bills each week.

“He also requires entertainment, as all 13-year-olds do,” said Lanning. And in Denver, where the pair live, that cost alone is more expensive than he had anticipated, he said.

But all in all, it’s been a wild ride so far. “Living together has been mostly fun!” Lanning said. The two spend most of their free time playing video games, watching Netflix, going to the arcade, and cooking together — a hobby Damien especially loves.

Damien and Lanning. (Photo: Courtesy of Finn Lanning)
Damien and Lanning. (Photo: Courtesy of Finn Lanning)

“Damien’s dream is to become a chef,” Lanning said. “He cooks frequently and would like to continue to study cooking skills and participate in cooking competitions.”

As for Damien, he couldn’t be happier living with Lanning, who has taken time off of work to adjust to his new role as caregiver. Damien has plenty of new friends now, and he told Yahoo Lifestyle he loves “cooking in my new kitchen, being able to go outside, and playing with Nerf guns."

Like most kids, he’s also thrilled to finally having his own room. “Damien has had his own hospital room in the past,” Lanning said, “but this is the first time in a long time he has had his own room that he can call home and that isn't swarming with nurses and doctors.”

And being in Lanning’s care has had one more major benefit for Damien — the boy is back on the transplant list, except now he’s been pushed to the top due to his age and the fact that he’s been on dialysis for several years now, Lanning said. And Damien likely doesn’t have to worry about returning to the hospital and being removed from the list again.

“Damien has been let down by a number of systems and adults throughout his life,” Lanning said. “Despite the challenges of providing for his care, I am committed to not being another adult that lets him down.”

To that end, Lanning is working on officially adopting Damien. But he told Yahoo Lifestyle that a kidney transplant is top priority for now.

“Once we have made it through transplant and he is more settled, we will begin to discuss [adoption] with the county and figure out the best way to move forward,” Lanning said. “That is a decision that we will all make together.”

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