A third-grade teacher in Minnesota donated one of her kidneys this past July, saving the life of a school custodian she had befriended.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Erin Durga, upon seeing a plea for help on Facebook, underwent the kidney transplant process July 3 for a friendly custodian at her school in Kimball, Minnesota.
Durga, 38, started teaching third grade at Kimball Elementary in 2011. As the daughter of a school band instructor, Durga had always heard that members of the maintenance staff were the first people she should befriend in any school.
It was during her time at Kimball that Durga met Patrick Mertens, a custodian who started working there in the same year, and Durga finally was able to gain an appreciation for her father’s wise words.
Durga and Mertens quickly struck up a friendship, frequently seeing one another at the end of a school day. The teacher even began sending her children to the day care that Mertens’ wife ran.
In February 2018, however, Mertens woke up in the middle of the night with pain and was rushed to the emergency room at a local hospital. He learned there that his kidneys were failing and he would need a transplant as soon as possible, according to the Post.
Most people can function well with only one kidney or with one whole kidney and a portion of the second, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Local doctors told Mertens’ wife, Lynda, that her husband probably would die within five years if he didn’t get a new kidney. Doctors also said that finding a match likely would take three to 10 years.
Unfortunately, the Living Kidney Donors Network reports that the current waiting list for a kidney transplant is 93,000 people.
Mertens, now 64, has Type O blood, the hardest type to match, which would leave him restricted to transplants from a Type O donor, Annie Doyle, a living-donor coordinator in Minnesota, said, according to the Post.
This made the transplant process even more difficult for Mertens and his family.
“To watch your loved one go through that, it’s just so heartbreaking,” Lynda Mertens said. “They can’t do the things that they used to do.”
In desperation, Mertens’ daughter, Kayla, took to Facebook last January to ask friends if a donor could be found for her father before it was too late.
Durga saw the post and decided it was time to take action. Despite not knowing her blood type, the teacher believed she was meant to help Mertens.
“I felt in my heart, from the very beginning, that this was my thing,” she said. “I felt really good about it, and I was at peace with it throughout the entire thing.”
In addition to setting up a GoFundMe page for her friend, Durga completed the necessary blood tests from her home, unable to do so at local hospitals as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
By June, she discovered her blood type was a match. Durga was going to give Mertens one of her kidneys.
The teacher informed Mertens of the fantastic news right away, and the two went in for surgery the next month.
According to the Post, Durga told hospital staff at the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis that she had to see Mertens before the surgery.
While staff members initially denied the request, Durga persisted and eventually was allowed to speak with her friend. She told him she was sure the transplant would be successful and he had nothing to be nervous about.
To the relief of both families, Durga was right.
“I told Erin, when I first woke up out of surgery, it was nothing I’ve ever felt before,” Mertens said after the transplant. “It was a new life.”
Durga and Mertens both were well enough in light of the procedure to start the 2020 school year together at Kimball this past August.
Mertens reportedly sent Durga flowers at Thanksgiving and calls her often to thank her for her life-saving gesture.
“She’s our miracle, our angel,” Lynda Mertens said. “We’ll forever be grateful for her.”
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