Father Facing A Life-Threatening Medical Condition Puts His Life In The Hands Of An Unexpected Ally

Maybe you remember the way your dad did a little dance before cutting the turkey on Thanksgiving. Maybe you remember how, after a 12-hour work day, he still popped you up on his knee and talked about cartoons. Fatherhood is an art — and Darreld Peterson was Picasso.

Take one look at his photos on social media, and you’ll know one thing for certain: the man from Mason City, Iowa, was a dad, and he loved the job. So after doctors handed down a life-altering medical diagnosis, Darreld feared his opportunities to spend time with his cherished boy were slowly slipping away…

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, Camden.

Darreld Peterson / Facebook

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.

Darreld Peterson / Facebook

But that Darreld could smile at all was particularly impressive. For years, he’d been dealing with an issue the preschool-aged Camden could never quite understand, and it was an issue few people could ever smile through.

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.

Darreld Peterson / Facebook

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…

Five days a week, he attended Washington Charlie Brown Preschool & Childcare and learned to count and read and draw. As his dad’s condition worsened, he fell into depression — which, luckily, someone special noticed.

Some time in early 2016, 54-year-old preschool teacher Nancy Bleuer — or Miss Nancy if you asked her class — noticed a down-trodden Camden among her students. So she pulled him aside one day and asked what was bothering him.

Camden told her all about his dad, about how he might die. Heartbroken for her student, she called Darreld to check up on him. Sure enough, the dad confirmed what his child said: his kidneys were only functioning at about 20 percent capacity.

For some time, Nancy dwelled on this news, as well as the memory of an old co-worker. This co-worker “had donated a kidney to someone in her church,” Nancy remembered, and “it was an important part of her life’s journey, and that was inspirational to me.”

Matt Rose / Carolina Public Press

So Nancy thought and thought and thought some more, and eventually, she spoke with Darreld. She told him she — a stranger, for the most part — would donate a kidney, provided they were a blood type match! But the father refused.

Asking someone he barely knew to cut a piece of her body out for him — and a vital organ, no less — sounded like too much, like he’d owe a debt he could never repay or that she would, years later, regret it. But the teacher insisted.

So Miss Nancy submitted herself to blood, heart, and psychological tests to see if her kidney was a match for the ailing father. One afternoon when Darreld visited her classroom to pick up a sleepy-eyed, post-naptime Camden, Nancy shared the results.

Hieu Nguyen / The Daily Iowan

She was a match! “He looked stunned at first,” Nancy recalled, laughing. “It took a minute to sink in, but then he hugged me and I knew: OK, he gets it!” Tears in his eyes, the father immediately turned to his son and scooped him up in a massive hug.

Darreld Peterson / Facebook

How much exactly Camden knew about kidneys, dialysis, and donors is unclear; it’s impossible to know how he saw his father’s struggle. But chances are, wrapped in his father’s tearful embrace, the four-year-old likely knew one thing: his dad was going to live.

WHO TV

The day before the June 1, 2017, surgery, Darreld and Camden took Nancy out to lunch, where she told them, “If this would ever be my child that needed something, I’m right there; I’m in your shoes, I understand.”

Darreld Peterson / Facebook

The next day, Darreld and Nancy underwent their respective kidney surgeries performed by a team of doctors and nurses. It went perfectly, and less than one week later, both patients were back home where they belonged.

In the end, Darreld struggled to thank Nancy. “How do you ever thank someone for saving your life?” He asked. So he made a promise — a promise to make her donation, her sacrifice worth it. He promised to live a good life.

University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital / Facebook

And come Father’s Day, he spent the day with his son, doing whatever the young boy wanted. He did, after all, save his dad’s life by telling Miss Nancy about him in the first place! And of course, during the day, they took plenty of pictures, both wearing huge smiles across their faces!

Darreld Peterson / Facebook

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