The dictionary definition of the word “custodian” is someone who has responsibility for or cares for something. Last summer, a lucky janitor at a Minnesota elementary school learned that there was an unexpected janitor, someone who was not looking after him but was destined to save his life.
Patrick Mertens, 64, was in dire need of a kidney transplant. The generous staff at Kimball Elementary School had already spearheaded the fundraiser to help pay for ongoing dialysis treatment.
Even with their help, Mertens’ condition continued to deteriorate. His daughter, Kayla, posted a petition on Facebook for potential donors to come forward. Someone did, and it was someone they knew, Kimball Elementary’s third grade teacher, Erin Durga.
Durga and Mertens were more than acquaintances. In addition to working at the same school, Durga’s three children attended the nursery run by Mertens’ wife, Lynda.
Co-workers often chatted about their families after school. Durga also got to know and like Lynda, whom she joined at daycare while picking up her children.
Still, it was a huge leap from exchanging casual stories about their families to donating a kidney, but Durga knew it was something she simply had to do.
“I felt in my heart, from the beginning, that this was my thing,” Durga said. The Washington Post. “Once I decided yes, I am going to donate to Pat, I felt really good about it and was at peace with it throughout the entire process.”
After tests confirmed that he was a match, Durga drove to Mertens’ home to break the news. But she didn’t have to say a word. The T-shirt he was wearing adorned with “DONOR” said it all.
The procedure was scheduled for last July. Mertens was nervous going in, but Durga assured him just before the surgery that she was sure everything was going to be okay. Encouraged by her positive attitude, Mertens felt ready to face the test that lay ahead.
Both patients came out of the operation with great success and were sufficiently recovered to return to their jobs when the school year began in August.
Mertens says that since the operation, things have really changed for him. As grateful as he is to be able to spend time with his loved ones and resume enjoying his favorite hobbies, what he and his wife are most grateful for is the amazing woman who was willing to make sure he could.
“She is our miracle, our angel,” Lynda Mertens said. “We will always be grateful for her.”
Whether or not Durga is a real-life guardian angel is not our decision, but one thing is for sure: when you look up the word “custodian” in the dictionary, if her photo isn’t there, it definitely should be.
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