Matthew Parker, 6, is a match with only one percent of the population

By Wendy Grossman Kantor
February 26, 2015 03:30 PM
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Jason Gordon

Last December, Lisa Parker emailed her triplets’ first-grade teacher to let her know the boys would be missing school.

The family was holding a press conference that day in San Antonio, Texas, to help 6-year-old Matthew Parker, who was a match only with one percent of the U.S. population, to find a kidney donor.

The teacher, Lindsey Painter, decided to sign up to be tested herself – and was a perfect match.

“I feel lucky,” Painter, a 34-year-old mother of 10-year-old and 6-year-old boys who lives and teaches in New Braunfels, Texas, tells PEOPLE.

Matthew’s mother says they are the lucky ones.

“[Painter] truly is a special person,” says Matthew’s mom, a 44-year-old custom-home builder.

Tough Beginnings

Matthew only weighed 1 lb., 15 oz., when he and his brothers, Mark and Samuel, were born 4 months early.

When he was three weeks old, Matthew had a blood infection and low blood pressure which caused kidney failure, Dr. Mazen Arar, his nephrologist at the University Transplant Center at University Hospital in San Antonio, tells PEOPLE.

Matthew started dialysis and received a kidney transplant when he was 2 years old. But, a year ago, his body rejected that kidney – and he desperately needed a new one.

His brothers were too young to donate. And because Matthew was on the transplant list for a long time – and had developed antibodies to most kidneys – it was going to be difficult to find a match for him.

So, the hospital decided to create a website to search for someone with a big heart, willing to give up a kidney.

“His chances were small,” Arar says.

Which makes it all the more amazing that – out of the 80 people who signed up to be tested – his own teacher at Hoffman Lane Elementary School turned out to be his donor.

Painter says when she heard of his plight, she just had to see if she could help.

“I watch my healthy, active, loud, wild children running around,” she says. “Matthew deserves more. He deserves to live a normal, healthy, active life like my boys.”

The transplant is scheduled for March 19.

“People don’t even know what she’s been through just to get to this point,” says Lisa Parker.

“Lindsey went through a lot of tests, blood work and appointments and psychological tests,” she says. “And she used her personal time to drive all the way to the hospital in San Antonio.”

Life After Surgery

Matthew, who loves building Lego ships and helicopters, drawing pictures and watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles during dialysis, is looking forward to the little ways the transplant will change his life.

He’ll be able to eat anything he wants – like cheese pizza, vanilla ice cream and cereal with milk – and be able to do things he’s never done before, says his mom.

“We’ve already signed him up for swimming lessons,” she says.

And he’ll be able to go to school every day instead of missing it for dialysis three times a week.

“It will give him freedom,” says Arar, his doctor.

It will take Painter about three weeks to recover from the surgery.

She hopes Matthew will be back at school before the end of the year “so he can celebrate graduating first grade with his classmates – and his new kidney.”

And when he returns he will have a new, special bond with his teacher.

“She’ll be a part of Matthew,” says his mom. “I think we’ll make her a part of our family.

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