JEFFERSON COUNTY, Mo. — During the pandemic, a lot of families have turned to virtual learning, but a Kimmswick teacher has saved the life of one of her students many times over after they formed a bond through the computer.
"If any of my students needed anything, I would do what I could for them. Hayley needed me, so here I am," Kimmswick teacher Brittany Perschbacher said.
Perschbacher started teaching with Missouri Virtual Academy three years ago, not knowing the assignment would change the course of her life to save another's.
"When we got told that in November that Hayley needed a heart, we didn't know where we were going to end up," Shelley Justason said with daughter Hayley on her lap, the 9-year-old adding "they didn't know if they were going to lose me."
Born with two hearts and a number of health complications, Hayley has been through 15 surgeries and is still on organ donation lists for a heart, liver, and kidney.
When Perschbacher lost her grandfather to COVID last year, she realized that she could become a plasma donor, giving Hayley the gift of time.
"Brittany was giving us another day, another minute, another hour," Shelley Justason said, Hayley adding "another future for me."
"If I didn't do this, would Hayley still be here today? I don't think about that because it breaks my heart. The world needs Hayley," Perschbacher said.
Perschbacher now spends about an hour and a half every month making a donation, but in November she's going to take it a step farther.
"I told Shelley, 'If she can accept my plasma, I know you can do living donors for kidneys. Adults can donate to kids. Let's try to get me tested because if my plasma works, then maybe just maybe my kidney will work,'" Perschbacher said of her plans to become a kidney donor.
Perschbacher was originally scheduled to take the kidney tests earlier this summer but delta cases spiked postponing appointments.
She is optimistic that they will match, continuing the bond.
"We're bonded for life and I'm not giving up on her. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help this girl, and the crazy thing is we've never even met in person," Perschbacher said.
"There's never gonna be enough words to say 'thank you,'" Justason said.
A GoFundMe account as been set up to help Hayley's family fund her ongoing medical costs.