PENINSULA, Ohio (WJW) – Fourth-grade was a decades-old memory for a Summit County man, when suddenly right when he needed it most, his elementary school teacher came back into his life just in time to help save it.
“Every child I’ve ever taught is one of my kids,” said Theresa Novak.
Teaching nearly 30 years, Novak said one of the places she feels most at home is in the classroom. She still has a picture book of her students from the first two classes of her career.
One of those students, Derek Norton stands out.
“Derek, I had him back in 97′ and I taught 4th grade at Green,” said Novak. “Derek was a very inquisitive, thoughtful, meticulous child.”
Novak works with Norton’s sister at Woodridge High School in Peninsula and stumbled on her social media post about her brother’s rare autoimmune condition, Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC).
“Derek is very ill and he needed a liver transplant,” said Novak. “Derek is one of my kids so I kind of read up on what exactly does he need. What is a living donor? When I read it, I thought, ‘I can do that.”‘
Novak quietly started the testing process in June to see if she could help and learned she was the match Norton, now married and a new father, desperately needed.
There is no known cure for Norton’s condition. A liver transplant is the only option, his family explains in a social media post about his health battle.
“I can only hope that if my children needed this, someone would step up and do this for me,” Novak said.
Elena Novak said her mother’s care extends to all her students. She would know, as her mother was also her second-grade teacher.
“‘It’s doing little things with great love’ is what my mom always said. I know that every year she loves her class just like she loves me and my two brothers,” she said.
Transplant surgery is scheduled for next week. Novak met up with her former student and his family recently and described the experience as overwhelming.
“I met with Derek and his wife and his beautiful little son Henry,” she said. “We sat down together and went through our old photos and talked about 4th grade. “His wife was very sweet, and just thanked me for giving her, her husband and Henry’s father another chance to be part of their lives a little longer.”
A teacher’s devotion and love came full circle 27 years later.
“The bracelet is in Mother Theresa script,” said Novak pointing to her wrist. “It says ‘be the one.’ She is my role model… You can never predict something like this, but he’s one of my kids and he needed me.”