It’s often the little things that strengthen the bond between mother and daughter, making the relationship special. This also means, however, that simple daily tasks can become a real struggle if the mom passes away, leaving a massive gap in any child’s life.
At just nine years of age, Isabella Pieri experienced a tragic loss of this kind. After suffering for years with a rare brain disease, her beloved mom, Patricia Pieri, lost her battle and died. Her husband was left to bring up their daughter alone in Alpine, Utah.
Raised by her father
Grieving dad Philip Pieri, 47, tried his best to fill the parental gap that his wife had left. But there were some tasks that he found more difficult than others. For instance, despite teaching Isabella to look after herself in most respects, maintaining his young daughter’s hair was a job that they both dreaded.
Needs help with hair
Indeed, Philip admitted to being totally clueless when it came to styling Isabella’s locks. In fact, he even went so far as to give his daughter a crew cut shortly after his wife’s death in a desperate attempt to control her flowing hair.
It always grew back
“I originally just gave her a crew cut because I didn’t know how, and it was all tangled and I couldn’t get it out for anything,” Philip told KSL-TV in March 2018. Still, two years later, Isabella’s hair had grown long again. But that brought the issue of how to style it back to the surface.
She had enough
After Philip’s drastic actions a couple of years earlier, though, young Isabella refused to allow her father to help. However, she herself was unable to create the up-dos that she wanted. Her dad, who works long hours at a local store, told Good Morning America, “She’d get mad at me for pulling her hair. I didn’t know how to do it.”
As life carried on, so did the saga of Isabella’s hair. But despite her best efforts, her hair remained a source of disappointment for the young girl. That was until a simple act of kindness from a warm-hearted stranger changed everything.
Getting in on the action
School-bus driver Tracy Dean, 47, had been styling some of the girls’ hair each morning before class, and Isabella wanted in on the action. She felt shy at first, however, and unable to ask Dean for help. But after a while, she plucked up enough courage to approach the bubbly blonde.
Bus braiding ritual
Dean agreed and subsequently began braiding Isabella’s hair each morning before school. “I can tell she was struggling with her hair,” Dean told Good Morning America. “We usually do two French braids first, and once in a while she just wants one braid. I also taught her how to brush her hair.”
New sense of happiness
And Isabella is delighted with her new routine. Indeed, Dean’s caring nature has brought a new sense of happiness to the child’s days. “It makes me feel like she’s a mom pretty much to me,” Isabella told KSL-TV. “And it makes me excited for the next day to see what she does.”
Moreover, it’s not only Isabella who has felt the effects of the bus driver’s kindness. The girl’s dad was overwhelmed when he heard how the mom-of-four had taken his daughter under her wing. “Tracy didn’t have to step up, but she stepped up to help out. I was amazed,” he told Good Morning America. “She’s such a nice woman.”
Holding her head higher
And even Isabella’s teachers appreciated the benefits of the young girl having a mother figure in her life. “I just noticed her head was a little higher that morning,” her teacher, Mrs. Freeze, told KSL-TV. “And she had a little more of a step.”
Moved to tears
Nonetheless, Dean remained modest in spite of the recognition that she’d received for helping Isabella out. During an emotional KSL CARES news report in which viewers were warned to “grab the Kleenex,” the bus driver stated that her actions came naturally from being a mom herself.
It touched close to home
Dean also revealed that since being diagnosed with breast cancer several years earlier, she has often wondered who would look after her four children should she not be around. As a result, Isabella’s situation really resonated with Dean.
What Mom's do
“Seven years ago, I found out I had breast cancer. And that’s one of the things that went through my head – who is going to take care of my little ones?” Dean said. “Not that my husband couldn’t do it. But, you know, that’s what mom’s do. They do their kids’ hair.”
Making a difference
In the report, Dean could be seen adding a pretty flower to the plait before reminding Isabella how beautiful she looked. And as the driver stepped off the school bus, a KSL-TV reporter was waiting to greet the woman who’s making a difference to the lives of students every day.
Happy they're happy
Holding back her tears, the reporter asked the hairdresser/bus-driver/mom how she feels about the children she is helping. “It makes me feel happy that they’re happy,” Dean replied. And there seems to be no doubt that she puts a smile on many of the pupils’ faces.
Simple act of kindness
Moreover, as the story spread across social media, members of the public praised this touching account of simple kindness making a difference to a child’s life. It appears that these young students will have fond memories of their bus driver when they look back on their school days.
Going above and beyond
In one response, Facebook user Diane Jones commented, “Thank you ma’am for the smiles you placed on these girl’s faces. It’s priceless. They will remember you for the rest of their lives and they will love you forever.”
And after such a tragic loss, Isabella’s father was most grateful to see his daughter happy again. “One day [Isabella] came home and [her hair] looked beautiful,” Philip said. “I call her my princess and she looks the part, she plays the part and her confidence is way up, which is what I’ve been intending.”
Paying attention to student's signs
While touched by the reaction to her morning braids, Dean felt like being there for the students was another part of the job. The same went for kindergarten teacher Nancy Bleuer, who knew she was put on Earth to help others, particularly her students. Like Dean, she noticed one of her kids seemed off, so she decided to dig a little deeper.
One of Miss Nancy's pupils was a 4-year-old named Camden Peterson. A bright, energetic, and social kid, he carried a secret with him that not even the intuitive Miss Nancy could figure out. The secret bothered him. It scared him. And whether or not he knew it, he always wore it on his sleeve. He never spoke about his situation, however. At least, not directly.
One day at school, Nancy Bleuer noticed something was wrong with her student. Camden was acting strange, silent, and reclusive. Was he sick? Was something wrong at home? Was he feeling out of place? She was intent on getting to the bottom of it, so she monitored him carefully.
Pulling him aside
After days turned into weeks with no improvement on Camden’s part, Nancy asked if they could talk in private. She didn't want to single him out in front of the other kids, and she was relieved when he said yes. They went to an empty corner of the room, and the truth poured out.
Nancy was worried. Camden was demonstrating telltale signs of a kid with a rotten home life. Her dedication to her students didn't stop in the classroom, so she carefully coaxed the truth out of her pupil. He was hesitant to speak at first, but after some careful guidance and effort, he confessed.
The source of his heartache was his father. See, 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. But Darreld wasn't doing well.
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. During their escapades, Camden didn't know his father was dying.
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.
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.
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.
As Camden told his story, Nancy's jaw fell to the floor. The story he told was devastating. His father was seriously ill, and without proper treatment, he was likely going to die. The truth was an unbearable weight for a kindergartener, yet Nancy was determined to set everything right.
Trouble at home
So Nancy went to her files and pulled up the phone number for Camden's dad, Darreld. He, of course, had no idea that he was about to receive this call. When he first realized it was Camden’s teacher, he worried that his son had gotten in trouble!
The teacher told the father that Camden had spilled the beans, and Darreld was embarrassed beyond belief. Nevertheless, he filled her in on all the details 4-year-old Camden wasn't privy to. His kidneys were functioning at below 20% capacity, and he didn't have a ton of time left.
Many would argue that teaching is tireless and underpaid. It takes a giving person to be one, and that described 54-year-old Nancy to a tee. She wasn't getting any younger, and her kidneys were working fine. Maybe, she suggested, Darreld could use one of her kidneys! Immediately, Darreld declined. They'd have to think of another way.
Promised to help
But no matter what, Nancy was committed to helping. She pressed the issue further, explaining to Darreld all the reasons she would make the perfect donor, and eventually, the father relented. She had made a promise and had every intention to keep it, though it wasn't so simple.
Let the tests begin
Donating a kidney isn’t as easy as slicing someone open. Nancy had to take physical exams to make sure her organ would be compatible with Darreld’s body. The results were much better than they could’ve expected.
Not only was Nancy’s kidney in good health, she also had appropriate genetic correlations to donate to Darreld. It seemed like all the cards were in order, but there was one more test she had to pass.
Before Nancy could be approved, she had to undergo psychological exams to confirm that she wasn’t donating her kidney because she was insane or under duress. The back and forth proved what everyone already knew: Nancy wasn't crazy; she just had a heart of gold.
After a long period of tests, discussions, and “are you sures,” it was finally time for surgery. Transplant surgeons Alan Reed, Zoe Stewart Lewis, and Daniel Katz led the endeavor. They were qualified and experienced, but like any surgery, there was always a risk.
In the clear!
Luckily, Darreld and Nancy could both rest easy. The surgery was a great success! “She’s given me and my son a new opportunity at life,” Darreld said. He couldn't believe it. Was this the most selfless act ever committed by a teacher? It may have been, though elementary school teacher Keller Sutherland gave Miss Nancy a run for her money.