In 25 years as a technical education teacher at Southern Middle School in Lothian, Steve Ferralli barely made a dent in his sick time.
In February, though, that started to change. At first, he felt run-down, out of breath climbing a simple flight of stairs. He thought it must be the flu. His doctors learned it was something much worse. They told him it was cardiomyopathy -- an inflammation of the heart muscle that has left him in need of a new heart.
In his years at Southern Middle School, Ferralli knew his pupils and co-workers cared about him, though such sentiment was usually reserved for when a former student returned to campus years later and told him that he had made an impact in some small way.
But the outpouring has been enormous in the weeks and months since Ferralli, 46, fell ill.
Hundreds of cards and letters have been sent to him at Washington Hospital Center, where he has spent the past eight weeks, much of it in bed after an operation to implant a mechanical pump to keep his heart going until a new one is found.
Last week, 80 people donated blood at the school during a drive in his name -- blood that will go to Washington Hospital Center to replenish what Ferralli has used and to aid others. The blood drive was so successful, said seventh-grade math teacher Lisa A. Moore, that another is planned for the fall.
Also last week, the school's eighth-graders, who attend Southern High School in Harwood while the school is being enlarged, dedicated their annual walkathon to Ferralli, with donations going to the hospital in his name. Before they began their laps around the track, pupils had raised $400. They were expecting more to pour in.
"It's overwhelming," Ferralli said last week in a telephone interview. "I never expected the kids to be that supportive."
The teacher is one of 22 people in the area on a waiting list for a heart; nationwide, 76,000 people are waiting for organs.