AYER, Mass. (WCVB/CNN) - A Massachusetts teacher and her family opened their hearts and lives to a teenager with Down syndrome, taking him in after his mother died of breast cancer.
Kerry Bremer met Jake Manning, who has Down syndrome, and his single mother, Jean Manning, more than four years ago. The teacher knew Jake’s mom was battling terminal breast cancer.
"I fell in love with him instantly, and as she got sicker that year, I just thought, ‘What is she going to do?’” Kerry Bremer said.
After talking to her husband and their three children, Kerry Bremer made Manning an offer, mom-to-mom, to take care of Jake, should it be needed.
"If you need a backup plan for Jake, then our family is happy to make him part of our family. And she said, ‘I'll sleep better tonight than I’ve slept in a long time,’” Kerry Bremer said.
Jake spent the next few years getting to know the Bremer family, sharing weekends and holidays. Kerry Bremer’s husband, Dave, and children – Kaitlyn, Kristen and Jonathan – quickly embraced Jake’s loving and joyful nature.
"When I first met him, back when he was in Kerry’s class, it was fun. But when we first decided to do this and I met him, it was "You’re dad? You’re Dave the dad?’ And that was it. For a very long time, I was Dave the dad,” Dave Bremer said.
Manning died last Wednesday. She took a nap after a chemotherapy treatment and never woke up. The Bremers are now Jake’s guardians.
"My mom went to heaven," Jake said. "She's always in my heart. She loves me so much."
Jake is thankful that his second family was there for him when he needed them most. However, Kerry Bremer says Manning is the real hero: a dying mother who selflessly prepared her son for a safe and loving future.
"We shared our boy, and she will live on here in this house,” Kerry Bremer said.
Friends of Manning have set up a GoFundMe page to help support Jake and the Bremer family. It has raised more than $25,000.