'What did I do to deserve this?' Wilton High counselor overwhelmed by community support before kidney transplant

WILTON — High school counselor Dann Pompa walked out of the school building last week, just four days before his kidney transplant at Yale New Haven Hospital.

Although he expected to carry out his typical after-school routine and return home, Pompa emerged from the front doors and was greeted by dozens of faculty and students applauding him.

Pompa felt something was up, he said, but confirmed the suspicion after walking out and locking eyes with a familiar face: His kidney donor and Wilton parent David Cote.

“You said one of your goals was to get back on your bike and go for a nice 25-mile bike ride,” Cote said to Pompa as he nodded. “So I called on a favor of some friends, and we are going to help make that happen.”

Cote was flanked by juniors Eli Ackerman and Tyler Casey, who along with senior Jake Arnowitz, played a key role in helping Pompa find a donor who was a positive match. Arnowitz, who produced and edited the video to publicize Pompa’s need for a kidney transplant, was just steps away from his friends, recording on one of the school’s cameras for a follow-up video.

Peering just over the shoulder of Cote, Pompa directed his attention to Kevin Kane, of Cannondale Bikes, and Will Maxwell, of Outdoor Sports Center in Wilton. Through Kane, Cote helped facilitate another generous donation, beyond just his kidney. Cote walked to the back of the Outdoor Sports Center van parked in front of the school’s front doors and revealed a new Cannondale Quick SL 2 electric assist bike.

“This is going to help you get back into action, maybe a little faster than you (thought),” Cote said. “So you can get back on the bike and reach your recovery and fitness goals, and I’ll probably be right behind you.”

Maxwell also donated a new bike rack for Pompa’s Jeep.

“I’ll go ride it in the hallway,” Pompa joked as he looked at his new bike as inspiration to properly see through his recovery.

Cote admitted that everyone has been giving him “too much credit for all of this,” and pointed out this has mainly been the work of Ackerman, Casey and Arnowitz.

Moments later, Pompa hugged his students and thanked them.

As the crowd started to disperse back towards the parking lot and inside the school building, Cote asked Pompa to join him at the Wilton Deli, just next to the high school.

“My wife wants to meet the man who I am donating my kidney to,” Cote said. Pompa obliged, and the students joined.

All huddled around a corner table at the Wilton Deli, the group reflected on a final moment of normalcy before the surgery on Tuesday.

Casey was visibly warmed by the encounter, but admitted he did have a bit of anxiety heading into the surgery.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for so long,” he said. “I am so anxious to get it done and for Mr. Pompa to be healthy again.” He added that the moment he gets the text saying that Pompa has had a successful surgery, it will be a big relief after a long road.

“Mr. Pompa is probably one of the most loved people in the school,” Arnowitz said at the table.

Ackerman said he values this opportunity to give something back to the man that has helped him endlessly.

As the group finished their food, Pompa sat back in his chair and, when asked how he would reflect on this chapter of his life in the solitary moments leading up to his surgery, he was candid.

“The biggest thing is ‘why me?’ Not why did (needing a transplant) happen to me, but this, all of this, what did I do to deserve this? Am I worthy?” he admitted while sitting at the table. “I’ll just think about how appreciative I am of you guys,” as he motioned to his students.