West Side Academy student A’Ja Booth & teacher Nadirah Muhammad reunited after successful kidney transplant

WSA teacher Nadirah Muhammad donated her kidney to student A’Ja Booth in December 2014; A’Ja returned for her first full day of class on Tuesday, May 19

To say that teachers dedicate their lives to ensuring students succeed is an understatement at West Side Academy (WSA). In December of 2014, WSA Teacher Nadirah Muhammad took on the heroic deed of donating a kidney to a student in need: 18-year-old A’Ja Booth.

On Tuesday, May 19, A’Ja returned to West Side Academy for her first full day of class, and to be reunited with Muhammad and her fellow classmates during a “red carpet” welcome-back ceremony.

As A’Ja and Muhammad walked the red carpet into the school’s gymnasium – the place where A’Ja and Muhammad first met during a dance class – A’Ja’s classmates cheered her on and threw confetti into the air.

In addition to hearing a tear-filled message from A’Ja and Muhammad as they shared their journey of the successful surgery, speakers for the ceremony also included:

  • Jason Denny, M.D., Henry Ford Health System and Henry Ford Transplant Institute surgeon who performed A’Ja’s transplant as part of the DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan Kidney Transplant Program
  • Andrea Ford-Ayler, West Side Academy Principal
  • Karen Ridgeway, Superintendent of Academics for Detroit Public Schools

Representing the district’s model for alternative schools, West Side Academy is widely known as a last bastion of hope for students disenfranchised from traditional comprehensive high schools. But for A’Ja, West Side Academy offered a second chance at life.

“Words can’t explain how I feel about what she did and how she did it,” said A’Ja. “I’m very thankful and blessed. It means a lot to me. I really look at her as a second mom.”

Muhammad, a physical education and health teacher at West Side Academy, learned A’Ja was in need of a kidney transplant and immediately offered one of her own.

Muhammad met A’Ja in her dance class during the winter semester of the 2013-14 school year. Then in May 2014, she noticed a book that A’Ja had written, and asked if she could read it. The book chronicled A’Ja’s journey of having dialysis treatments through a Healing Journal at Children’s Hospital of Michigan – and her need of a new kidney. Without a second thought, Muhammad offered to help.

A’Ja also shared that administrators at her previous school, which is not a Detroit Public School, told her she would have to find another school to attend because they couldn’t accommodate her for missing so many days due to the dialysis treatments.

“When I came here, everyone showed me so much love and support. I’m just thankful,” she said through tears. “I feel wonderful, better than ever. And I’m really excited to be back in school.”

The procedure for the kidney transplant took place on December 15, 2014. Muhammad’s kidney was removed at Henry Ford Medical Center and A’Ja’s procedure was performed at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. On January 26, 2015, Muhammad safely returned to work.

“I’ve been told by my co-workers, colleagues, administrators and friends that what I’ve done is above and beyond the call of duty. But to me, this is what teachers in Detroit Public Schools do all the time for their students,” said Muhammad. “I just happened to help my student in this fashion, but I believe that the teachers throughout DPS do this every day for their students. I don’t feel that I’m any different. … We are just one family here to help our students succeed in life. And that’s what I’m helping her to do.”

WSA Principal Andrea Ford-Ayler said during A’Ja’s many dialysis appointments, several teachers and counselors worked with A’Ja to ensure she made it to the appointments on time – often driving her themselves – and worked around her schedule to make sure she didn’t miss any pertinent assignments.

“We offer a love that abounds beyond the normal high school,” said Ford-Ayler. “We reach out to students in a way that no other school has the time to. And this is the perfect example of our phenomenal Detroit Public Schools’ teachers who will literally sacrifice their own lives to save the life of a student. What Ms. Muhammad did was sensational, to say the least, and is a testament of the extraordinary educators we have across the district.”

A’Ja will graduate on Monday, June 8 at 11 a.m. at Martin Luther King, Jr. Senior High School pending completion of online courses.

About West Side Academy
Providing one of the most productive credit recovery programs in the state of Michigan, West Side Academy has received the Congressional Award for Outstanding Graduation Rates in Alternative Schools. In the customary high school setting, most students can capture between 60-70 credits per school year. At West Side Academy, students can capture 100 or more credits per year to graduate on time if they have fallen behind. Of the 471-student population, 103 students are enrolled in the Second Chance program taking nighttime and online courses, and 368 students attend traditional day courses. The Second Chance program provides students who are 16-18 years old an opportunity to take courses on a fast-track schedule. They can capture grades every 10 weeks, which allows the students to move at a faster pace than traditional high schools. The Second Chance program also attracts students who need to work during the day, or are high-energy, and may be disruptive in the traditional classroom. To learn more about WSA, visit http://detroitk12.org/schools/westside/ or call (313) 456-8000.

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