A Colorado teacher gave one former student the ultimate gift this month, after discovering she was his match for a life-saving donation.
Tracy Bye, 53, and Henry Howard, 29, both from Steamboat, Colorado, underwent a successful kidney transplant on Sept. 1.
"It's not just a gift to me, it's been a gift to my family," Howard told ABC News today. "For my wife to see that, the past couple of days of me feeling healthier [and] just getting a lot more precious time with my son, to be able to be present for him. Everybody thinks their kid is the best, but I think he might be. He's really special. The amount of life that [Bye] has given to us, we'll never be able to return her generosity."
Howard and Bye met in the late 90s at Soda Creek Elementary School in Steamboat Springs when Howard was a 5th grade student. Bye was not his teacher but the two worked together when Howard served as treasurer for the Student Council.
"I just remembered his energy," Bye told ABC News. "He was always smiling and always ready for the next thing. He had a lot of friends and he was one of those students that every teacher knew. He'd always say, 'Hello' to you and was a very good person."
Over the years, Bye said she became well-acquainted with Howard's family--even working with his mother and sister, who both became teachers at Steamboat Middle School, where Bye retired last June after 30 years.
In November 2015, the principal at the middle school distributed a letter from Howard's mom, asking for the community to be tested for a match as her son's kidney donor. Howard had been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease three years before.
"I was just really tired," Howard said. "You have to work and provide for your family so everyday had been a struggle. In the back of my mind, the psychological factor was at any point, my kidneys could just shut down."
Howard said his family went and got tested, but were ruled out as matches.
Soon after, Bye underwent tests at University Hospital in Denver, where she was told she would be a compatible match.
"He just had a little boy named Elijah that's only 15 months old," Bye said. I thought, 'If I could do this, and it might be able to help him be a dad and help him live, I will.' I made sure it was OK with our two sons and I went down to Denver and it was three days of testing. When they came back and said, 'This will work,' it was great. So I was like, 'Let's do it.'"
Since the Sept. 1 transplant, both Bye and Howard are doing well in recovery.
"I feel surprisingly great," Howard said. "Just barely two weeks out from the surgery and even now I can stay up late with my wife and spend more time with her. Throughout the day I feel this increased level of energy.
"I think the relationship that we were able to form through this experience was a gift within itself," he added of Bye. "There's really no words to express our gratitude in what she's given to us."