WRIGHTSTOWN, Wis. (WBAY) - When school starts Tuesday, a Wrightstown boy will be all smiles to be back in class with his friends.
Brayden Auten (left) with nurse and organ donor Cami Loritz show their surgery scars (Photo provided)
That's because a miracle gift he received saved his life.
Until last April, 8-year-old Brayden Auten was your typical active, healthy boy, and the youngest boy from Wrightstown ever to go to state in wrestling.
But then, the whirlwind -- which began when Brayden came home from school one day sick.
By the next night, he was at Children's Hospital in Milwaukee where doctors discovered an aggressive, unknown virus was attacking his liver.
"And then about two days later it just started going downhill and just kept going downhill," says James Auten, Brayden's dad.
Within a week, young Brayden was fighting for his life.
"It was the Sunday after we got there, they finally looked at us, they're like, 'We're bypassing everything. He's going on the list tonight,'" says Auten.
"Started talking liver transplant, and we just bawled our eyes out. We didn't think it was going to get that far," adds Ruth Auten, Brayden's mom.
Desperate to find a donor, the Autens posted Brayden's story online and the response was overwhelming.
"My brother, my sister, her family, everything. They said they had so many people calling in to their unit that they had to add an operator," recalls James Auten.
Unfortunately, no match could be found and time was running out.
"We're waiting there and just watching him get sicker. It was tough," says James Auten.
"Hits you in the stomach. You don't know what to do," says Ruth Auten.
The Autens say they prayed, and their prayer was answered.
"Then we had the miracle, Cami, show up," says James Auten.
Cami Loritz, an ICU nurse in Milwaukee, who grew up in Denmark, learned she was a perfect match and volunteered to be a living donor.
"What she did was completely selfless and she saved his life, plain and simple," says James Auten.
While Brayden spent the next two months recovering in Milwaukee, his parents were blown away by the love back home.
"They set up fundraisers and everything for tournaments and just, it was really amazing to see the community support and the wrestling team came while we were gone and did our lawn and landscaping and came and saw him. It's been pretty amazing," says James Auten.
Brayden returned home in July and will go back to school with very few physical restrictions.
But first, the family had one order of unfinished business.
"We can't thank her enough. She's a true miracle. We consider her one of us, one of our family," says Ruth Auten.
The Autens paid for a family photo shoot with Brayden and Cami (see slideshow at the end of this article).
"The pictures say everything," says Ruth Auten fighting back the tears.
And she's right, the pictures do say everything, about the gift of life and a grateful family.