Students launch video to find kidney donor for Wilton High mentor

WILTON — The search for a kidney donation for a beloved Wilton High School staff member has touched the community after dedicated students created a video campaign.

Wilton High School juniors Tyler Casey and Eli Ackerman and senior Jake Arnowitz have led the effort to find counselor Dann Pompa a needed kidney. Part of what drove the students to actively campaign is Pompa’s selfless demeanor, they say.

Pompa, who has worked at Wilton High for 17 years, has suffered health issues since a fracture resulted in having a steel rod placed in his leg that later became infected. It resulted in Pompa suffering from membranous glomerulonephritis, also know as MGN.

Glomerulonephritis is a disease in which the kidneys' filters become inflamed and scarred, and slowly lose their ability to remove wastes and excess fluid from the blood to make urine, according to Yale New Haven Hospital.

In January, Pompa was cleared to seek a donor. He was advised to use available means such as social media.

“I don’t know anything of that,” Pompa said, chuckling. Luckily, as a mentor of several service clubs at WHS, he was connected with students who had the knowledge and the dedication to create a campaign for him. Arnowitz, for example, is the senior executive producer of Wilton Educational Television.

According to Casey, he found out over the summer when talking to Pompa about his kidney problems.

“I thought the best idea to spread awareness was to share what he’s facing right now, information about his condition and hopefully getting as much publicity as possible,” Casey said.

The three students got together and reached out to current and former students who were all too eager to help.

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"His presence has made our lives better, in school and other issues we are facing outside of school. In a small, minuscule way, we are kind of repaying him for the every day effect he's had on us," - Eli Ackerman.

“He’s such a unique guy. He’s the first one in school, so hardworking and always helping others. The first thing he does is make coffee for everyone when he gets in,” Casey said.

His current students wouldn’t know what he was going through, according to Casey, given Pompa’s dedication to his students.

“He’s going through so much treatment, and no matter what his deal is, or whether he’s been in the hospital, he is in school every single day to make sure that every student is as stress free as possible,” Casey said.

“You wouldn’t even know what he is going through. He doesn’t even bring it up,” Casey said.

Pompa was recently honored with the Connecticut American Legion’s highest award for civilians — the Americanism Award, which was also noted in the video.

Pompa was recognized in October at Wilton Post 86’s 100th anniversary celebration, which was attended by several of his students.

The video, which has gained about 1,800 views, points out that by donating a kidney, the donor will be giving future generations of students at Wilton High a chance to “meet a truly unique and special person.”

Pompa is the staff advisor of several WHS clubs, including Socks for Soldiers, which coordinated a collection of 14,000 pairs of socks, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises money for childhood cancer research, and PeerVention, a social, interpersonal skills development program for adolescents.

Pompa was more interested in supporting his students’ efforts versus talking about his own challenges.

“Speaking of videos, you should see the latest videos the students have done — one for veterans and we’re making one for St. Baldrick’s. They are amazing,” he said.

The 10-minute video features students talking about the impact Pompa has had on their student experience. Most said he was a good listener and really cared.

One of the first to find out if she was a compatible donor was Casey’s mother, Kerry, but she wasn’t a match.

“Why wouldn’t I try? Someone is in need. He’s had a profound impact on my son’s life and so many others,” she said.

Pompa said his reaction to the video was “beyond words.”

“It was so much more than I expected. They sent it to me Christmas night and it was a such a gift,” Pompa said.

One student in the video said Pompa was the “most liked person in school. He really likes his job and cares about the students he works with.”

“Mr. Pompa is fantastic,” another student said.

“What sets him apart is how much he cares about people. Whenever I go into his office asking him about school or talking about something going on in my life, he’s present and cares about me,” the student said.

Kerry Casey did the blood work and answered several questions, but it turned out she wasn’t a match. Tyler said he’s heard from Yale that several others have also reached out to see if they are a match.

Pompa is blood type O-negative. Those interested in contacting Yale can do so anonymously. If a donor becomes a match, the process is free to the donor and Yale experts will monitor the person’s health for life.

Ackerman said making the video was to repay Pompa for all he’s done for his students.

“Every day, his presence has made our lives better, in school and other issues we are facing outside of school. In a small, minuscule way, we are kind of repaying him for the every day effect he’s had on our lives,” Ackerman said.

Ackerman said they have received positive feedback from other current and former students who were touched by the video and recalled their own close relationships with Pompa.

“It truly hit them to watch it,” Ackerman said.

Kerry Casey said she’s been amazed at the passion and commitment of the her son and his friends, who are unable to apply to be a donor since the minimum age is 21.

“I can’t believe they’ve come up with this way to help. They can’t donate, or they would be the first to sign up. So they made a choice to create awareness so that thousands of people can be reached,” Casey said.

“It’s incredible work and could be lifesaving,” she said.

Those interested in donating a kidney can call 866-925-3897.