MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) – For firefighters, saving lives is part of the job, but one Tampa Bay area firefighter went above and beyond, giving a Tampa NICU nurse a second chance at life.

Lt. Derek Foss just returned back to work at Southern Manatee Fire Rescue after eight weeks out, recovering from surgery. He went under the knife, donating a kidney to Tampa mom and nurse Brianne Baker.

When Baker was 15 years old, she was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease, but there was only a 3% chance she would ever need a transplant. In 2018, pregnancy complications took a big toll on her kidneys, bringing her into stage four renal failure. Two years later, she told 8 On Your Side a case of COVID-19 made things even worse.

Photo courtesy: Brianne Baker

“My husband and my son and I all contracted COVID-19 and within four months, I was in and stage five renal failure,” said Baker. “My doctors are still kind of flabbergasted by it. They haven’t really seen COVID attack the kidneys, post-COVID like that. The only thing they can kind of understand is that it continued to attack specifically my kidneys afterwards and months after having COVID, I found out that I was going to be listed for transplant.”

She quickly learned the odds were against her.

“Being pregnant with my son, I ended up with a very rare antigen on my blood, so that shrunk my window from 96% of the population to just six, so that was extremely hard to hear,” said Baker. “I became very hopeless. It was very, very overwhelming.”

Baker and her husband, firefighter Joel Baker of North River Fire District, turned to social media in hopes of finding a miracle match. The nursing and firefighting community came together to help spread the word.

Lt. Foss came across the social media post, noticed his blood type could help Baker, and decided to get his blood tested at Tampa General Hospital. He knew her husband Joel though his 21 years as a firefighter in Manatee County, but had never met Brianne.

“I thought, maybe it will be a match and it was,” said Lt. Foss.

Not only was Lt. Foss a match — he was a perfect six out of six match and carried the same rare antigen only six percent of the population has.

“It was definitely weird how everything aligned and fell into place. I don’t know, I just felt like it was the right thing to do. I believe every human life has a value and everybody deserves a fair shot. Sometimes, people get dealt a crappy hand of cards and if you can help, why wouldn’t you?” said Lt. Foss.

After extensive testing, the firefighter was deemed healthy enough to donate his kidney. The surgery took place back in early June and was a success.

Lt. Foss took eight weeks off of work to recover from the procedure. When he returned last week, he came back to a big surprise.

“The firefighters of North River, all of Joel’s coworkers, donated their own personal sick and vacation time to me so while I was off. I had enough time to do it and I was prepared to do it on my own anyway, but I didn’t use an hour of my own personal time, they covered all two months,” said Lt. Foss.

Baker is also recovering, but tells us she’s feeling renewed and “amazing.”

“I never realized my decline over eight months. All I did was sleep, I had no appetite, it was very hard to work. I had to drop hours. I never realized how much of a decline it was until I got my new kidney. I feel amazing and I now have energy to keep up with my 3-year-old and my 12-year-old and just life to live,” said Baker.

She said she is forever grateful to the humble man who made it possible.

“If anybody Is ever willing to donate blood, an organ, anything, just please consider it. You don’t realize how many lives you save and how much of a difference you make,” said Baker.