Caring mother-of-two Veronica Buttigieg told The Times last night of the moment she decided to give her kidney to a stranger she spoke to at a party.

The 52-year-old British teacher, whose husband has many relatives in Malta, was so touched by the plight of Manoly Viravong, who had suffered from kidney disease for 18 years and desperately needed a transplant, that she made up her mind on the spot.

I felt God was with me when I went over to her and said that I would help. I knew that God would not let us both down- Veronica Buttigieg

“It was something I felt was right,” she said. “So I went into hospital for the operation on my 31st wedding anniversary with my husband’s blessing.”

Veronica’s 55-year-old husband Mario, whose father was Maltese and came from ─Žamrun, didn’t argue when his wife announced that she wanted to help a stranger she had just properly met for the first time.

“Nothing ever shocks me about her,” he said. “She always makes up her own mind – and lives to help others. She is a good Christian. But we did have some scary moments, especially when she caught a serious infection after the operation.”

Painter and decorator, Mario’s father, Edward Buttigieg, emigrated to Britain in the 1950s and his son has many happy memories of holidays on the island. Even today the family visit his cousins, uncles and aunts in Naxxar and other places.

Veronica, who lives in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, said: “I knew Manoly fleetingly from mutual friends but she was a stranger to me really. I would just nod hello.

“It was only when Mario and I were invited to a 40th wedding anniversary that I saw her sitting in the corner with her wonderful husband and children.

“I was told that she desperately needed a kidney transplant and the whole family were overjoyed when her brother offered to be a donor. But at the last minute he pulled out and they were so upset.

“I was told that anyone could be a donor if the tests were positive. Up to then I had believed that only family members could help. I knew at that moment that I was at the party for a purpose.

“I had a lovely family too and this could happen to any of us, including any of our wonderful relatives in Malta. I felt God was with me when I went over to her and said that I would help. I knew that God would not let us both down.”

Veronica wasn’t sure that Manoly really believed her, so she telephoned her the next day and made the promise again.

Time was an issue. Veronica works as a nurse at a local Essex hospital helping children and so she couldn’t afford a lot of weeks off.

Normally the function tests for kidney donors take six weeks but because of the seriousness of the case, surgeons agreed to rush them through in just 14 days, just in time for the school summer holidays.

Happily, Veronica and 45-year-old Manoly were compatible and the operation date was set.

Veronica’s husband Mario and her sons, 22-year-old Robert and Richard, 20, were then a little concerned. The realisation that the operation was imminent led to them having some sleepless nights. They were worried about their wife and mum.

“I don’t think they had fully realised what this would entail until the last moment,” said Veronica. “But I felt at peace with myself and they were comforted by that.

“When I walked through the hospital doors that day I had no qualms. I spoke quietly to God in my mind telling him that I knew he wanted this to happen and he would make sure that we were both all right.”

But there were serious problems and for a while Mario and the boys’ worst fears were realised. Veronica developed an infection following the two-hour surgery at the Royal Hospital in London’s Whitechapel.

“One of the wounds didn’t heal,” she said. “The Spanish woman surgeon was lovely and brilliant. But there had to be insertions everywhere ... my nasal passages, my belly and my breasts. Then she had to put her hands inside me and take the kidney out herself. That is always the best way apparently.

“I guess it was a risky business... but in the end I came through and I was back at work two months later. Now Manoly and I are great friends and our families are too. She is a lovely, gentle lady, I feel like she is my sister.”

Mario is proud of his wife.

“The operation took it out of her,” he said. “But she is gutsy and determined and came through. She is really healthy now.”

His father, who died three years ago, lived down the road from him and Veronica in England and Mario has happy memories of visiting family and friends in Malta as a boy.

“I remember my father had a win on the horses one year,” he said. “He immediately bought tickets to Malta and we had a wonderful, long holiday. As our sons got older we always took them there... and we still go.

“I love the Cisk beer and, in fact, I feel safer on the streets of Malta than I do in England. The people are so lovely and friendly on the island.”

Veronica Buttigieg (left) today with one of the nurses.

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