Million-to-one transplant joy for long-lost school friends

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Two women, both 29, who had been best friends at primary school but had not seen each other for 17 years, were reunited when they both received kidney transplants from the same donor.

The connection only emerged on the day that Teresa Minter and Denise Cullen underwent surgery at Guy's Hospital, in south London. The two women are still living within miles of their primary school, St Francis of Assisi in Peckham, south London. They also have the same blood group and tissue type, and when transplant organs became available they were the most suitable matches in the area.

Geoffrey Koffman, transplant surgeon at Guy's, said: "The chances of this happening are extraordinary. There are more than 7 million people in the health region, but Guy's carries out only around 100 kidney transplants a year."

The friends were placed in different classes at St Veronica's Secondary High and drifted apart as Teresa developed kidney problems and took time off school for dialysis and treatment. For nearly two decades they were out of touch. Mrs Minter did not know that her friend had suffered kidney failure last summer. But last January both received urgent calls telling them that they had been chosen for transplants.

Ms Cullen had already gone down to the operating theatre when Mrs Minter saw a woman who looked familiar. When they began talking, she realised that it was the mother of her school friend.

"It's better than winning the lottery," Mrs Minter said yesterday. "The transplant has not only given us an opportunity to live normal lives, but it has brought us back together again. It's really great stuff. The doctors couldn't believe it."

The friendship rekindled, Mrs Minter, who lives in Norwood, and Ms Cullen, who is still in Peckham, are now on the telephone to each other all the time. Although Mrs Minter had some initial problems with rejection of her transplanted kidney, both women are now recovering well.