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It was summer 2019 in Aurora, Colorado, when CBS Newsmiddle school math teacher, Finn Lanning, and Damien, the student he just couldn’t shake.
Damien says Lanning was definitely one of his better teachers. “When a teacher doesn’t bother me over and over again, that’s better,” he said. “Like leave me alone, I’ll leave you alone, I’ll get my work done.”
“He’s smart and funny and he was always a student who stood out. And then one day he just came to me and said, ‘I’m not coming back to school,” Lanning said.
Lanning sat his student down. “And what I found out was his story.”
He learned Damien had a kidney disease and was in foster care because social services couldn’t find a foster family willing and able to meet his medical needs. Damien was forced to leave school and move into a hospital.
But here’s the real kicker: Damien needed a transplant desperately. A lot of times it’s hard to get a transplant if someone doesn’t have a stable home to return to after surgery.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks. I mean, you just can’t sit across from somebody you care about and hear them say something like that and know that you have room to help,” Lanning said.
That’s how Lanning became a foster parent. He took in Damien — dialysis needs and all — even though prior to that hallway meeting, he’d been a confirmed bachelor who delighted in his childlessness.
“I never thought that I could leave school and take one of them with me and still survive,” he said.
Damien said: “I was like, ‘Yes! I get out of the hospital.’ But I was like, ‘My math teacher? Out of all the people?'”
They got along famously, although Damien refused to get too excited. He’d seen fairytales fall apart before.
“It’s kind of bad thinking about that, but some people actually do that. Like, they’ll be happy with you one day and then just kick you out the next,” Damien said.
Lanning said he’s not going anywhere, whether Damien believes it or not.
In the nearly two years since CBS News shared their story, Damien was able to get a transplant and he’s a much healthier 15-year-old. A few months ago, Lanning adopted Damien.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Damien said,
It’s proof that sometimes fairytales do end happily ever after.