STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — A Steamboat Springs man received the ultimate gift this month from his former elementary school teacher.
Tracy Bye, 53, and Henry Howard, 29, both from Steamboat, underwent a successful kidney transplant on Sept. 1.
Howard told ABC’s Good Morning America that the donation was more than a gift to him.
"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,” Howard said. “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 was not in Mrs. Bye’s fifth-grade class at Soda Creek Elementary School in the late 90s, but the two worked together when Howard served on 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.”
Bye has grown close to Howard’s family over the years. She retired from Steamboat Middle School last June, where she worked with Howard’s sister and mother.
Bye learned of Howard’s situation last year after the middle school’s principal sent out a letter from Howard’s mom to school faculty. 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.”
Bye got tested and learned she was a match after Howard’s family members were ruled out.
"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."