Sheri Baker and Tod Johnson spend their days at Shell’s Puget Sound Refinery designing and engineering systems to make the refinery and its neighbors safer. But they’ve got another thing in common: They both donated a kidney to help save the life of another person.
And while many kidney donors are close relatives of the people they’re helping, this was not the situation with Sheri and Tod.
In Tod’s case, it was a co-worker of his wife, Valerie, a man named Ramon, who was suffering from a kidney condition that could have killed him at any moment. Sheri donated her kidney to her cousin Arla, a Massachusetts woman she didn’t even know existed until a chance encounter on Facebook brought them together. Arla was months from having to go on kidney dialysis and on a five-year wait for a new kidney.
Tod had his kidney removed in 1998, so he was able to offer support and information to Sheri as she was making the decision last year.
“I tried to encourage her,” Tod said. “She’s a pretty strong person anyhow. I told her: You’ll come out of it and in a month you won’t even know you’ve done it.”
In fact, Sheri came out of the experience so strong that she continued her marathon running, qualifying for this year’s Boston Marathon, which she ran in part to raise awareness of the need for kidney transplants and to show that donors make complete recoveries. Her inspiring run made headlines in Boston.
“A lot of my family members were very much against me doing it,” Sheri says. “Trying to run the Boston Marathon was my way of showing everybody that I was ok.” She finished the 26.2 mile race in 3 hours and 35 minutes.
The spirit of service that led both Tod and Sheri to donate their vital organs shows through in their commitment to their work.
Sheri is the Team Lead for Control Systems, Engineers and Projects, an eight-member team that includes Tod.
“We design the instruments, things that measure the properties of the fluids that run through the refinery, that help keep it safe and under control,” says Tod, an electrical engineer and Indiana native who has worked at the refinery since 1990.
Their work is essential for the efficient and profitable operation, but most important, it’s crucial for keeping the refinery’s workers and neighbors safe by “keeping the dragon in the pipes.”
“Foremost is safety,” says Tod, who lives near Alger and forges iron ornaments for his home in a small blacksmith’s forge in his spare time. “Over the years there’s been a big emphasis on safety. We’ve done a lot of safety system upgrades.“
Baker, one of five children and a chemist by training who was raised in Puyallup and graduated from Pacific Lutheran University, came to Shell 10 years ago from Georgia Pacific Chemical, which brought her to Bellingham.
“Thinking back on my childhood my mother was an inspiration to me as she was the hardest-working woman I have ever known,” says Sheri, who has two grown sons and is engaged to a father of three younger children.
When Georgia Pacific closed its doors in Bellingham, Sheri looked for a way to stay in the area she had grown to love.
“I would have thought working in an oil refinery would be boring, but I wanted to stay in the area so I decided I would check it out and discovered it was far from boring,” Sheri says.
Both Tod and Sheri say they have no regrets about donating their kidneys.
“Both Todd and I are that type of people. We always want to help people and make a difference,” Sheri says. “This is one shot in life where you know you’re going to make a difference, you’re going to save a life.”
“Seeing the kidney patients was kind of humbling,” Tod says. “It was amazing to see how strong those people were when you’re going through that. It’s a privilege in a way.”