Minnesota School Teacher Donates Kidney To Save Custodian’s Life

Needing a kidney transplant can be one of the scariest experiences individuals and their families can go through. Sometimes it can take months or even years of waiting in line for one to be available, and by that time, it might be too late. Most people just have to hang on to hope or pray for a selfless person they know to come along and gift them one of theirs. That’s just what happened to one lucky custodian at a Minnesota school.

He Was A Hard Working Custodian

Picture of a custodian
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Patrick Mertens is a 64-year-old janitor that was desperately in need of a kidney transplant. He worked as a custodian at Kimball Elementary School in Kimball, Minnesota, but was too afraid to mention it to his co-workers.

He felt that he would become an inconvenience to them by telling them, as many of them had already set up a fundraiser to help support his dialysis. But his daughter wasn’t going just to stand idly by.

It All Started In 2018

Picture of emergency sign
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Patrick learned the unfortunate news that his kidneys were failing back in 2018. He was woken by a pain in the middle of the night that was so severe that he had to go to the emergency room.

It was there that the doctors broke the news that his kidneys weren’t working properly. They explained that finding a match for him could take anywhere from three to ten years and that he would die if he didn’t get one in five.

There Were Further Complications

Picture of a sticker
Tim Boyle/Getty Images
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

To make the whole situation even more complicated, it turns out that Patrick has Type O blood, which is tricky. This means that he can give blood to any other type, but her can only receive blood from other people with Type O.

His wife Lynda told The Washington Post, “To watch your loved one go through that, it’s just so heartbreaking. They can’t do the things that they used to do.”

It Was Known That Patrick Received Dialysis

Picture of a medical van
Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

It was well known among the faculty at Kimball Elementary School that Patrick received dialysis because he had to leave school three times a week in order to receive the treatment.

Knowing how expensive everything was, the community wanted to lend a hand and organized a “Hats for Pat” fundraiser to help the Mertens family pay for Patrick’s transportation to dialysis.

Dialysis Wasn’t Enough

Picture of dialysis machine
BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images
BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

Unknown to everyone, dialysis is a form of treatment for kidney failure that helps aid the body in ridding unwanted toxins, waste, and other products by filtering the individual’s blood.

This must be done when a kidney begins to fail because kidneys are necessary for these processes and keeping the human body clean. This procedure can help to replace some of the kidney’s function, and along with medication, can help the person live longer.

His Daughter Took To The Internet

Picture of Facebook
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Because her father was too hesitant to even let anyone else know how serious his condition was, his daughter Kayla took it upon herself to get her father the help that she needed. So, she went on Facebook and wrote a post explaining the situation to whoever would listen.

After releasing her post to the world, Erin Durga, a third-grade teacher at Kimball Elementary, read it and knew that she couldn’t not do anything to help.

Erin Had A Felling

In an interview with CNN, Erin explained that she knew this was her big opportunity to help someone in need, especially someone she knows.

She said, “I’d been wanting for a while to do something big for someone. I just didn’t know what it was going to be […] “When I read the post from his daughter, I just got chills. I had a feeling it was going to be my something. I knew from that moment that I was going to be a match.”

The Two Knew Each Other Closely

Picture of Patrick
Lynda Mertens/Facebook
Lynda Mertens/Facebook

Not only did Erin know Patrick through school as they were co-workers with her working as a third-grade teacher and he as a custodian, but their relationship went deeper than that. Erin’s three children also attended the daycare center that was run by Patrick’s wife, Lynda.

So, these two weren’t just mere acquaintances but knew each other on a more personal level than most custodians and teachers might. This only strengthened her desire to do anything she could.

It Was A Big Decision

Nevertheless, being close with someone and giving them your kidney are two entirely different things. If it were that easy, then everybody would do it! But it didn’t matter to Erin, who knew that’s what she wanted to do.

She told The Washington Post, “I felt in my heart, from the very beginning, that this was my thing […] Once I decided that, yes, I’m going to donate to Pat, I felt really good about it, and I was at peace with it throughout the entire thing.”

She Had To Undergo Numerous Tests

Picture of a doctor
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Erin then had to undergo a series of tests to see if she would be a match for Patrick. These tests are important because if someone receives a kidney that isn’t compatible with their body, it can kill them.

One of the key tests of this process is the blood test to see if both the donor’s blood matches the patient’s. Other tests include tissue typing, percent reactive antibody, and serum crossmatch. It’s a long process, but everything must check out before moving forward.

It Was A Match!

Update: We have a date for surgery! Prayer warriors, it is July 3rd in the afternoon. Only two weeks to go!I am so…

Posted by Erin Durga on Saturday, June 13, 2020

After Erin’s test results came back as a match, meaning that she could donate her kidney to Patrick, she drove directly to his house to tell him the good news. She wore a black shirt that said the word “DONOR” on it and showed up at his front door.

Patrick, who isn’t known to be emotional, broke down in tears. At that point, Erin had also set up a GoFundMe for Patrick and all his procedures.

The Surgery Was Postponed

Picture of iPad
DAVID ESNAULT/AFP via Getty Images
DAVID ESNAULT/AFP via Getty Images

Although everything was ready to go, the process was delayed when the coronavirus pandemic hit. However, Patrick needed a new kidney as soon as possible, and this wasn’t going to put everything on hold.

So, they moved forward, slowly but surely, going through the motions using virtual lab visits and appointments. Some of their tests were even done through the mail! But everyone was determined to get things done as soon as possible so Patrick could get healthy.

Both Families Were Nervous

Considering what a big procedure both Erin and Patrick were about to go through, it’s understandable that both families were nervous for everyone involved. Even though the doctors were confident that surgery would go smoothly, it was hard not to think about something going terribly wrong.

All both parties wanted was for the two of them to come out safely on the other side, but in the end, there are never any guarantees when it comes to surgery.

Success Rates

Luckily for Patrick, Erin, and both of their families, it turns out that the success rates for kidney transplants are relatively high. According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, the wide majority of people receiving the kidney survive at least one year after the surgery, with many living five years and many more after.

In addition, survival rates are higher for patients who receive a kidney from a living donor, which Erin obviously was.

What The Surgery Meant For Erin

I saw this picture in my reflection while washing my hands at my parent’s place. Twenty years isn’t looking too bad.

Posted by Erin Durga on Sunday, August 30, 2020

Erin would be a living donation, meaning that the kidney given to Patrick would be coming from an alive donor, which is usually the better option than receiving one from someone that has been deceased.

As it turns out, the donor survival rate is incredibly high. There are usually little to no issues following the surgery, as long as they continue to live a healthy lifestyle. In a study of 3,700 donors, only 11 of them later required dialysis or transplant, which is a lower number than the general population.

Erin Comforted The Mertens

Picture of surgeon
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Finally, the surgery was scheduled to take place on July 3, 2020. Understandably, the Mertens family, including Patrick, were nervous about the entire situation. Before the surgery, Erin stepped in to comfort the family, assuring them that everything was going to be okay because she knew that this was supposed to happen.

The surgery took place at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis, with both families patiently waiting to hear the results from the doctors.

It Was A Success

I love this guy.

Posted by Erin Durga on Friday, July 3, 2020

It was music to everyone’s ears to hear that the kidney transplant had gone off without a hitch and that both Patrick and Erin were doing perfectly fine. Just like Erin had said, everything was okay and worked out the way it should have.

Patrick commented, “I told Erin, when I first woke up out of surgery, it was nothing I’ve ever felt before,” he said. “It was a new life.”

They Both Had A Speedy Recovery

These two are breaking out of the U of M hospital today🎉😊 Erin will be heading home to her Beautiful family to…

Posted by Lynda Mertens on Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Even though the surgery was a success, everybody wasn’t totally in the clear just yet. Both Patrick and Erin had to recover from their surgeries and hopefully not encounter any infections or other unforeseen problems.

During their recovery, Erin and Patrick’s bond grew even stronger, as they had both been through a life-changing event together. At this point, the two knew that they would be in each other’s lives for the rest of their lives and couldn’t be happier about it.

Back To Normal Life

GOD is good!!! Today is Pat's 1st "light" 1/2days back to work, since his Kidney transplant July 3rd. Dr.gave him the…

Posted by Lynda Mertens on Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Today, Patrick is living the healthy life that he desired for so long. He spends his free time deer hunting, building birdhouses, and driving around in his favorite truck. He couldn’t be happier to be alive and is grateful for his second chance at life.

On the other hand, Erin returned to teaching, although the teaching staff moved to online learning due to the pandemic, which Erin says she enjoys. Everything is looking up for the two.

Erin Is Patrick’s Angels

I had a lovely evening visiting with Patrick Mertens last night. We are both home and feeling better each day. There is…

Posted by Erin Durga on Sunday, July 12, 2020

Patrick and his family couldn’t be more thankful for Erin’s sacrifice to save his life. On Thanksgiving, the Mertens family called Emily to thank her for what she did and sent her flowers to show their appreciation. Patrick’s wife says that “She’s our miracle, our angel […] We’ll forever be grateful for her.”

It seems that everything worked out for both parties, with Patrick getting a second chance at life and Erin doing what she felt she was meant to.