It doesn’t really make the most sense in the world to punish students by telling them not to come to school. However, one teen in Texas received this penalty — but not for the reason you’d think. He was suspended after pulling off a heroic move on his sick sister’s behalf. Then, when confronted about his actions, the teenager delivered an incredible response that tore through his community.
The Johnson family was a happy one. They lived out a peaceful existence in Poth, Texas, where dad, Alan, and mom, Jamie, worked hard to provide a good childhood for their kids Newt, Jasper, and Maggie.
Maggie, the youngest, was in fifth grade. She attended Poth Elementary while Jasper went to Poth Junior High. Newt, the oldest at 16, was a student at Poth High School. Soon, however, the children’s education became complicated…
On an ordinary day in October, Maggie became very ill, complaining of debilitating cramps and crippling nausea. Incredibly alarmed and confused, her parents rushed with her to the local children’s hospital.
Once the family arrived, they learned the awful truth about their cherished daughter’s condition: It was worse than any of them ever could have imagined — and it seemed like just the day before, she was completely fine…
In reality, Maggie was not completely fine. The doctors broke the tragic news to the Johnsons: their little girl had kidney failure. Something wasn’t right, though…the girl had been young, active, and seemingly healthy. It just wasn’t adding up.
Then the second bombshell was revealed. Maggie’s kidney failure was a result of Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis, a rare autoimmune disease. No one had had any idea until that fateful day at the Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital.
This disease inflames the blood vessels in the nose, sinuses, throat, lungs, and kidneys. It’s extremely uncommon as well as incredibly dangerous. A lack of treatment could spell out death for a patient.
The symptoms of the illness are varied but may include prolonged sinus infections, nosebleeds, numbness, and joint pain. And the side effects from her treatments weren’t much better. With chemo and dialysis, Maggie wasn’t looking forward to one particular reaction.
Granulomatosis also causes hair to fall out. Maggie, who had always cherished her bright red locks, was totally devastated. Her life was already going to change in so many ways, and now she wouldn’t even look like herself.
Suddenly, in the midst of all the despair, her 16-year-old brother Newt remembered something. He recalled how Maggie had always complimented him on his flowing locks. In that moment he knew exactly what he had to do.
The teen decided to grow his hair out for his baby sister. He felt compelled to do anything in his power to help her on the long and trying journey she had ahead. It was the least he could do.
“It made me feel good that I could do something for her,” Newt said. He loved his sister, and seeing her in pain hurt him more than anything else. However there was one obstacle that would conflict majorly with his heartwarming plan.
In order to grow the proper amount of hair necessary if Maggie were to need a wig, he’d need between eight and fourteen inches. The issue was that this violated the rules laid out in his school’s handbook…
See, Poth High School had very strict rules regarding the length of boys’ hair, stipulating that it “shall not extend beyond the ear opening on the sides nor beyond the top of a dress shirt collar in the back.”
“Hair may not extend over the top of the eyebrow, hang over the face and eyes or be distracting to others or self,” the guidelines continued. Newt was not typically a rule-breaker, but in this instance, he felt he had to make an exception.
So, as the weeks went by and his hair began to grow longer and longer, school officials did not take this infraction lightly. Eventually they gave him an ultimatum: cut it, or he wouldn’t be permitted to return to school.
“It really stressed me out because I already worried about my sister,” the addled teen remarked. The school was making an already incredibly difficult situation even worse, by complicating the one way that Newt knew he could help Maggie.
The deadline that Poth High School had given Newt came and went. One day he got to class and received an unwelcome surprise. His hair was in violation of the dress code; school officials called his mom, and she was forced to pick the teen up.
However, no matter what the school said, Newt wasn’t going to stop his efforts to help his sister. He was forced to make a dramatic decision: the 16 year-old opted to be home-schooled.
It wasn’t how Newt had envisioned his high school career going, but at that point, nothing else mattered. “I don’t understand why he has to get in trouble for doing this for me,” Maggie woefully remarked.
The school has issued a response, but not a very convincing one. “It was never about not supporting a sick child,” insisted Paula, the district’s superintendent. She went on to emphasize the $3,000 raised by the district in support of the struggling family.
However no amount of money can replace the priceless gift that Newt was giving his sister. Not only would she have a wig in the event that all her hair did fall out, but she knew for certain just how far her brother’s love extended.
“Listen to your kids,” the children’s father Alan said. “If they really believe in something, even if it does go against the rules, sometimes you just have to dig deep… It’s worth it.” It was worth it for Newt and Maggie, and their battle with the school board did have an impact on many educators. One teacher was moved so much, some are saying that she crossed a line.
See not long after Newt and Maggie’s story broke, one of Miss Nancy’s pupils was a 4-year-old named Camden Peterson. A bright, energetic, and social kid, he carried a secret with him that not even the intuitive Miss Nancy could figure out. The secret bothered him. It scared him. And whether or not he knew it, he always wore it on his sleeve. He never spoke about his situation, however. At least, not directly.
One day at school, Nancy Bleuer noticed something was wrong with her student. Camden was acting strange, silent, and reclusive. Was he sick? Was something wrong at home? Was he feeling out of place? She was intent on getting to the bottom of it, so she monitored him carefully.
After days turned into weeks with no improvement on Camden’s part, Nancy asked if they could talk in private. She didn’t want to single him out in front of the other kids, and she was relieved when he said yes. They went to an empty corner of the room, and the truth poured out.
Nancy was worried. Camden was demonstrating telltale signs of a kid with a rotten home life. Her dedication to her students didn’t stop in the classroom, so she carefully coaxed the truth out of her pupil. He was hesitant to speak at first, but after some careful guidance and effort, he confessed.
The source of his heartache was his father. See, while 34-year-old Darreld Peterson of Mason City, Iowa, kept the finer details of his life out of the public spotlight, one thing was perfectly clear to all who knew and met him: he loved his son. But Darreld wasn’t doing well.
Pictures of the father and his 4-year-old son decorated his social media profiles. In each one, the duo wore huge smiles across their faces, whether they were at a school event with inflatable slides or just in the car. During their escapades, Camden didn’t know his father was dying.
In 2010, just a few years before Camden was born, doctors diagnosed Darreld with Berger’s disease. Antibodies called IgA, the experts said, were building up in his kidneys and slowly destroying the organs.
In other words, Darreld was on the fast track to renal kidney failure, a condition in which his deteriorated kidneys would no longer filter all the toxins out of his bloodstream. When that set in, he would die — leaving Camden behind.
So after Camden was born in 2012, Darreld raised him knowing a fatal diagnosis was just one doctor’s visit away. And in January 2016, the Sword of Damocles finally fell: his kidneys failed. He needed a transplant ASAP.
While doctors placed him on a kidney donor list, he also sought out donors himself. “I had friends and family come forward who wanted to donate,” he said, “but these didn’t work out, for medical reasons or other reasons.” In the meantime, he started up dialysis.
The 34-year-old spent 4 hours three days per week hooked up to a machine that filtered his blood, during which he no doubt thought of little else but Camden. And for the four-year-old, even with his dad on dialysis, life continued.
As Camden told his story, Nancy’s jaw fell to the floor. The story he told was devastating. His father was seriously ill, and without proper treatment, he was likely going to die. The truth was an unbearable weight for a kindergartener, yet Nancy was determined to set everything right.
So Nancy went to her files and pulled up the phone number for Camden’s dad, Darreld. He, of course, had no idea that he was about to receive this call. When he first realized it was Camden’s teacher, he worried that his son had gotten in trouble!
The teacher told the father that Camden had spilled the beans, and Darreld was embarrassed beyond belief. Nevertheless, he filled her in on all the details 4-year-old Camden wasn’t privy to. His kidneys were functioning at below 20% capacity, and he didn’t have a ton of time left.
Many would argue that teaching is tireless and underpaid. It takes a giving person to be one, and that described 54-year-old Nancy to a tee. She wasn’t getting any younger, and her kidneys were working fine. Maybe, she suggested, Darreld could use one of her kidneys! Immediately, Darreld declined. They’d have to think of another way.
But no matter what, Nancy was committed to helping. She pressed the issue further, explaining to Darreld all the reasons she would make the perfect donor, and eventually, the father relented. She had made a promise and had every intention to keep it, though it wasn’t so simple.
Donating a kidney isn’t as easy as slicing someone open. Nancy had to take physical exams to make sure her organ would be compatible with Darreld’s body. The results were much better than they could’ve expected.
Not only was Nancy’s kidney in good health, she also had appropriate genetic correlations to donate to Darreld. It seemed like all the cards were in order, but there was one more test she had to pass.
Before Nancy could be approved, she had to undergo psychological exams to confirm that she wasn’t donating her kidney because she was insane or under duress. The back and forth proved what everyone already knew: Nancy wasn’t crazy; she just had a heart of gold.
After a long period of tests, discussions, and “are you sures,” it was finally time for surgery. Transplant surgeons Alan Reed, Zoe Stewart Lewis, and Daniel Katz led the endeavor. They were qualified and experienced, but like any surgery, there was always a risk.
Luckily, Darreld and Nancy could both rest easy. The surgery was a great success! “She’s given me and my son a new opportunity at life,” Darreld said. He couldn’t believe it. Was this the most selfless act ever committed by a teacher?