People needing a kidney transplant have to spend months if not years waiting in line for one, but thanks to the power of social media, one man got blessed with a kidney in no time.
Patrick Mertens was in need of a kidney, and so his daughter, Kayla shared about his need on Facebook in January.
The 64-year-old school custodian had not told any of his co-workers at Kimball Elementary School in Kimball, Minn., about it as he didn’t want to inconvenience any them as they had already set up a fundraiser to support his dialysis.
But nowadays everyone is online, and so was one of the teachers of Kimball Elementary, Erin Durga, who is a third-grade teacher there, she saw the Facebook post and knew she had to do something. She reached out to him and after undergoing tests, she got to know she was a match. The Mertens family could not believe it, “Who expects a teacher to give their kidney to a custodian?” said Mertens’s wife, Lynda.
Third Grade teacher
Durga says that as a child, her father was a school band director for 30 years and he told her that the first people she should befriend in a school are the building workers, which she obeyed with all her heart. She met Mertens after she moved to Fairhaven, Minn., in 2011, the same year Mertens moved too.
She started teaching at Kimball Elementary and in the evening after her finished work, Mertens cleaned her classroom after he swept the cafeteria and replenished toilet paper. Soon Mertens and Durga began having chats about their kids where she learned that his wife ran a day-care facility, the same place her son Rhone went, where the youngsters called Mertens “Papa.”
Ever since Rhone was born in 2009, Durga, 38, felt grateful and wanted to help someone in a meaningful way, she wanted to be a surrogate for a co-worker’s daughter who was struggling to become pregnant. But now this opportunity to help Mertens was in front of her.
Mertens first came to know his kidneys were failing when in February 2018, he got up in pain in the middle of the night. A visit to the ER confirmed that his kidneys weren’t functioning well and he was told he needed a new kidney by the doctor. He was also told that finding a match probably would take three to 10 years and that he would pass away if he didn’t get a new kidney within five years.
Patrick Mertens started dialysis in April 2019 and would feel tired all the time and would go to bed each night around 7. Durga was led to help him out after she saw the post, despite not knowing her blood type. “I felt in my heart, from the very beginning, that this was my thing,” said Durga, who has three children and raises chickens and rabbits. “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 remembered how she would bring daisies and roses from her garden for the Mertens at the day care after picking her children — Rhone, 11; Dean, 9; and Rosemarie, 7. She completed tests from her home to see if she was a match due to the pandemic and in June, she was confirmed to be a match. Durga jumped out of her white minivan in front of the Mertenses’ home wearing a black tank top that read “DONOR” and Mertens who isn’t emotional, cried and hugged her. Durga has also gone ahead and made a GoFundMe for Mertens.
Less than a month later, on July 3, Mertens and Durga arrived at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis. Initially, he was nervous but Durga calmed him down and insisted on speaking with Mertens, after multiple requests, the hospital allowed her to speak to him and assure him that the surgery would be successful.
The kidney transplant was a success and Mertens has been calling Durga an angel ever since. “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.”
Now Durga and Mertens have begun the school year in August and Durga said their bond grew stronger after surgery.
Mertens is leading a normal life and has returned to deer hunting, building birdhouses and driving his red Ram truck. He is grateful to be alive and spend time with his 3 children, 7 grandchildren and his yellow Labrador.
Kimball Elementary has shifted to online learning Nov. 16 after staff tested positive for the covid, while Mertens is still required to come in and sanitize the school. After a 2-week quarantine at home, Durga returned to work this week where she prefers to teach virtually.
Mertens sent Durga flowers at Thanksgiving and calls her to thank her and says he is at a loss to express thanks. His wife says, “She’s our miracle, our angel,” Lynda Mertens said. “We’ll forever be grateful for her.”