MINNEAPOLIS – The hugs lingered a little longer than a typical last day of school at Carondelet Catholic School. The tears came more easily, too.
“I think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime class,” said teacher Kristen Rafferty, tears welling in her own eyes. “I feel lucky that I got them.”
Rafferty’s fourth-graders learned the usual subjects this year – reading, writing and math. But they also taught the whole school a lesson in compassion when one of their classmates was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition.
In November doctors discovered in the brain of Owen Guertin an AVM - short for arteriovenous malformation - a tangle of abnormal blood vessels that, left untreated, could burst.
For Chris and Maria Guertin, Owen’s parents, the bursting of an AVM was no hypothetical. Their 14-year-old niece Sawyer, Owen’s first cousin, died of the same condition two months earlier. The Guertin family was still coming to grips with the loss of Sawyer, when out of precaution, Chris and Maria had Owen tested.
“Had his burst, it would have been catastrophic, it would have been fatal, and it would have been instant,” said Chris Guertin.
As Owen’s parents dealt with their son’s medical crisis and made plans for surgery in Boston, Rafferty broke the news to her Carondelet students. “What Owen was experiencing was hard for me to understand, so I knew it was hard for 9- and 10-year-olds to understand,” Rafferty said.
A bit of clarity came days later as Rafferty read to her class an excerpt from the book “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,” the story of Japanese girl with leukemia who sets out to fold a thousand origami cranes.
“As soon as we finished reading the story one of my girls raised her hand, she was like, ‘Miss Rafferty can we make a thousand paper cranes for Owen?’ I was like absolutely – while at the same time thinking, I have zero idea how to make a paper crane, but I will find out,” Rafferty said.
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