Like most four-year-olds, Camden Petersen had trouble keeping a secret. This one concerned his father, Darreld, and a health condition that could take his life. But it just so happened that Camden’s teacher overheard the preschooler’s confession – and she made an incredible offer to the Petersen family.
Iowa native Nancy Bleuer attended Buena Vista University, where she majored in elementary education, before settling in as a preschool teacher at Washington Charlie Brown Preschool & Childcare. The 54-year-old’s career saw her giving back to her community, but she always dreamed of doing more.
Bleuer, whose students call her “Miss Nancy,” told UIHC.org that a friend of hers had once made a living organ donation to a friend. “It was an important part of her life’s journey, and that was inspirational to me,” Bleuer said.
Bleuer’s life continued on its course, and her 2017 class included a four-year-old boy named Camden Petersen. His dad, Darreld, told CBS Philly that Bleuer played “an important role” in his son’s life as his teacher.
The normalcy of school likely helped Camden – as well as his dad – as they dealt with personal issues at home. In 2010 Darreld learned that he had Berger’s disease, a type of kidney inflammation created by an excess of an antibody named immunoglobulin A.
Over time, this excess of antibodies harms the organ’s tissues. And six years after his diagnosis, Darreld suffered organ failure. Following a seven-day stay in hospital, Camden’s dad then started undergoing regular dialysis.
The kidneys are responsible for filtering and cleaning the blood, so when they stop working, dialysis performs this function for them. But it’s a big commitment to undergo dialysis – Darreld spent four hours a day for three days a week in treatment.
So, at the same time, Darreld’s doctors added him to the waiting list for patients in need of a donated kidney. A transplant would free him from the time constraints of dialysis, but he’d have to find a donor first, of course.
Darreld said that his loved ones jumped at the chance to help him. “I had friends and family come forward who wanted to donate,” he told UIHC.org. “But those didn’t work out, for medical reasons or other reasons.”
As Darreld sought out a donor, Bleuer had no idea what her student’s family was going through – that is, until Camden brought the subject up at school. The teacher then spoke to Darreld to confirm what she’d heard.
And, upon finding out that her student’s father was in need of a kidney, Bleuer remembered her friend who had donated an organ. She had always “wondered how [she] would respond if such an opportunity to help someone else came up,” Bleuer explained.
It turned out that the decision to help was a no-brainer for the teacher, and one that Bleuer made immediately after finding out about the man’s condition. “She was like, ‘I want to donate. What do I have to do?’” Darreld recalled. He admitted that he’d been a bit uncertain about letting her participate, but the teacher insisted.
Of course, it wouldn’t be as easy as Bleuer just promising her kidney to Darreld. She’d firstly have to undergo a blood test to see if her type was compatible with the 34-year-old father’s. After that, doctors would perform further blood tests to confirm the match.
Then, Bleuer would still have to face additional procedures, which took place at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. These included urinalysis, an EKG and a CT exam. Doctors also performed psychological tests to ensure that Bleuer was mentally ready for what lay ahead.
It was May 2017 when Bleuer received the results – the ones she was hoping for all along. “I was really excited about it. I was ecstatic,” she told ABC News. “I don’t know what I would’ve done for closure if I wasn’t [a match].”
Bleuer subsequently shared the news with a “stunned” Darreld. “It took a minute to sink in, but then he hugged me, and I knew, ‘OK, he gets it!’” Bleuer told UIHC.org. With that, the pair prepared for the transplant surgery.
On June 1, 2017, both Bleuer and Darreld were wheeled into operating theaters for their procedures. A group of surgeons then oversaw the removal of the teacher’s kidney and its implantation into Darreld. The operations were performed without a hitch – indeed, in under a week, both patients were back home.
In sharing his story, Darreld aimed to teach the world more about how donating organs can transform people’s lives. He also put the spotlight on his medical team, who created “a positive and supportive environment” in the midst of his surgery, Darreld said.
Darreld also told CBS Philly that Bleuer’s actions were emblematic of all the teachers that he’d had as a child. They’d been “important role [models]” in his life, Darreld said. He admitted to UIHC.org that he was unsure how he could ever fully express his gratitude to Bleuer for such a selfless act, adding that she was “an amazing woman.”
As for Bleuer, helping others was always on her bucket list, so it made sense to step in and act. She knew her donation would keep Darreld around long enough for them to reminisce for years to come. Bleuer told ABC News, “It’s good to know that I’ll be able to go to Camden’s high school graduation one day and talk about this and think, ‘Well, that was crazy.’”
After all, it was the four-year-old’s actions that ultimately saved his dad’s life. But sadly there are hundreds of thousands of people on the list for replacement organs. When baby Blake was born in desperate need of a new kidney, for example, his mother took to social media to share his story. She hoped, you see, that someone like Bleuer would reach out with an offer that would make her son better.
Blake Bahr certainly did not have an easy start in life. Nick and Heather Bahr welcomed their little baby boy into the world in November 2014, but it quickly became apparent that he wasn’t very well.
Unfortunately, the baby was born with only one kidney, and it wasn’t functioning well. At just two days old, Blake received a kidney disease diagnosis. And because of his poor health, he spent the first few months of his life in hospital.
Blake was put on the donor registry because he was in desperate need of a new kidney. And he actually broke a record in doing so. Indeed, the little baby was the youngest patient ever to be placed on the waiting list.
Blake’s life certainly wasn’t easy while he waited on a kidney to become available, either. The little boy relied on feeding tubes, and for 13 hours each day he was hooked up to a dialysis machine. Things were hard on his parents, too.
For months, they anxiously waited for a call to say that doctors had found a donor match for their son. But Blake’s mom Heather wanted to do something other than wait for a donor to come to them. And so she decided to take to social media in order to share Blake’s story.
And in fact, it was Heather’s Facebook post that would eventually save her baby boy. Because a woman named Laurie Jansen stumbled upon Heather’s plea for help one night when she was scrolling through Facebook, unable to sleep.
Blake’s story struck a chord with Jansen. Her own mother had suffered from kidney disease and had undergone a successful transport. That kidney had lasted for 16 years, but after time took its toll on the organ Jansen’s mom needed a second transplant.
Jansen was desperate to donate her kidney to her mother, but she refused to accept it. And, tragically, medics weren’t able to find another donor in time. Jansen’s mom died in November 2013.
And so when Jansen saw Blake’s story, she knew she had to try and help. She got in touch with the Bahr family and offered herself up as a potential kidney donor, ready to take all the necessary tests.
“I tried to reassure her [Heather Bahr] that I was very sincere, and it was something I really wanted to do,” Jansen told the Herald Whig in February 2016. But first of all there was a phone interview to go through. Moreover, Jansen also had to have medical tests to check if she was even a match for Blake.
As it turned out, however, Jansen proved a perfect match. “It’s just incredible that she would do something like this for somebody she doesn’t even know,” Blake’s mom said. Little Blake was finally about to have the all-important kidney transplant that he so badly needed.
The life-saving kidney transplant surgery took place on January 18, 2015, by which point Blake was just over a year old. “It couldn’t have gone more smoothly,” his relieved mom told the Herald Whig.
The same surgeon operated on both Blake and Jansen. Technically, however, both patients were in surgery in separate hospitals, connected by an underground tunnel. “Basically he took my kidney out and walked it over and then did Blake’s surgery,” Jansen told the Herald Whig.
Jansen went back to work just two weeks after the surgery, and Blake was able to go home after spending just one week in hospital. But their story didn’t end there. The kidney, and their heartwarming story, have connected the two forever.
“We’ll never be able to thank her enough,” grateful mom Heather said in a KTVI interview. “She’s an awesome lady,” she continued. According to Jansen, however, it was just what she was “meant to do.”
“I think there was another reason my mother didn’t take my kidney,” Jansen explained. “I think there was just a higher reason for all of it. For me to open that page and click on it. To reach out to the Bahrs and to be a perfect match. I think there was definitely a little bit of a miracle involved there.”
Miracle or not, little Blake is now a healthy toddler thanks to Jansen’s kindness. And he has been making great progress. “He’s learning how to walk. He’s eating everything in sight — no more feeding tubes, no more dialysis!” Heather said.
Jansen regularly stays in touch and visits Blake, seeing that they now share a special bond for life. “It’s amazing to see the changes in him,” she told the Herald Whig. “To see him being so mobile, to see him talking and walking.”
To celebrate Blake and Jansen’s success story, the Bahrs donated 1,000 books to the hospital that treated Blake, SSM Health Cardinal Glennon. Books provided a distraction for Blake when he was undergoing dialysis treatment. And now the Bahrs hope that their donation will help entertain other children unfortunate enough to be going through a similar ordeal.