Grand Junction, Colorado,
11:26 AM

St. Mary's Caregiver Donates Lifesaving Gift to Patient

Brittany Driscoll and Laura Patricks

In the early 2000s, Laura Patricks underwent extensive dental surgery to reconstruct the bottom plate in her mouth. After months of pain, she ended up in the Emergency Department at St. Mary’s Medical Center, now part of Intermountain Healthcare, in Grand Junction, Colorado. A nurse drew her blood, a standard procedure for admitting you to the ED, and the tests revealed Laura's kidneys were functioning at seven percent. 

Kidney function is measured by the glomerular filtration rate (GFR), and healthy kidneys function at 60 percent or higher. When the GFR drops below 60 percent, it likely indicates kidney disease. Anything below 15 percent could mean kidney failure; in that case, a person would require dialysis or a transplant to stay alive.

Laura was referred to Dr. Barry Sobel, a Nephrology Specialist at St. Mary’s who’s been practicing medicine for almost five decades. He told her if she wanted to live and be active, she would have to follow a strict nutrition and exercise plan. Laura decided to trust in his knowledge and guidance.  

“I eliminated salt and processed food from my diet,” said Laura. “I exercised regularly, took my prescribed medications, and ate mostly fruits, vegetables, and protein. I also avoided foods high in potassium and phosphorus.”

After several months, her kidneys were functioning at 20 percent. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough, and Laura was put on the transplant list when her GFR dropped to 15 percent. Three years later, she had had her share of joyous moments and letdowns as several family members and friends offered to donate one of their kidneys, but they weren’t a match for various reasons. Laura placed a magnet on her car, posted it on social media, and hung up posters hoping a stranger would see it and want to help. 

“I didn’t have anything to lose, and I had everything to gain,” Laura said. “My goal was to be the voice for everyone needing a transplant and to tell as many people as possible.”

She remained optimistic that she could avoid dialysis while waiting for a kidney, but there was always some fear that it wouldn’t happen. That is until a serendipitous encounter at Dr. Sobel’s office.

During a routine appointment in February, Laura met Brittany Driscoll, a Registered Medical Assistant who worked for Dr. Sobel in the Nephrology Department for about a week. While Brittany drew Laura’s blood, she asked about the transplant list and how to donate a kidney. Later that day, she filled out a questionnaire online and was contacted by UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora the following day to start the donation process.

“When I heard Laura’s story, it touched my heart, and I knew that God had sent us to cross paths with each other,” said Brittany. “Ever since I was little, all I wanted to do was save someone’s life. It’s one of the main reasons I decided to go into healthcare. Laura is incredible, and I’m thrilled that I can help her because she deserves it so much.”

After Brittany passed the initial tests to make sure she was mentally and physically healthy enough to donate, she went through a series of doctor appointments, additional blood tests, CT scans, and a final exam to meet the surgeon. She was told the following week that she was approved. 

“When I got the call that I was able to donate to Laura, I fell to my knees in tears,” Brittany said. “It was truly a feeling I’d never had before. I’m delighted and blessed to be able to give her a longer and better quality of life.”

When you receive an organ from a deceased donor, you only have a 12-hour window, but when you’re working with a live donor, your chances of getting an organ are much higher because the surgery can be scheduled when it works for both the donor and recipient. 

Laura was moved to the top of the transplant list after she was matched with a living donor; however, that donor was not Brittany. Since they have different blood types, Brittany wasn’t an exact match, but she was added to the donor list. What happened next was nothing short of amazing.

Even though Brittany and Laura weren’t compatible, they both matched with another person who was also on the living donor/recipient list. This means that four people were matched, and on August 10 they will all have surgery simultaneously and side by side – two will give a kidney, and two will receive one. 

“One in three people in the United States has kidney disease, but you rarely hear about it,” Laura said. “I wish more people were talking about it since it affects many people. It takes a special kind of person willing to donate a kidney to save a life. People wait years to get a transplant, and donating to someone is the best gift you could give to them and to yourself.”

After the surgery, each donor will stay in the hospital for about three days and will be able to return to work a couple of weeks later. The recipients will remain for about five days and can return to work after three-twelve months. They will require roughly 15 medications to help their bodies avoid rejecting the new kidneys.

“I want more people to know that you can live a perfectly normal life with only one kidney,” Brittany said. “If you’re mentally and physically healthy, looking into kidney donation can be extremely rewarding. It’s an act of great kindness, and knowing you’re helping someone live longer and have a better quality of life feels amazing.”

Laura and Brittany are eagerly waiting for their surgeries next month.

“The team at St. Mary’s has been incredible,” said Laura. “Had it not been for the St. Mary’s nurse who drew my blood and discovered how poorly my kidneys were functioning and for Brittany being willing to donate one of hers, I probably wouldn’t be here today. This is a gift. I know many people probably wouldn’t look at it that way, but I have a whole new outlook because of what I’ve gone through. I’ve had to make many adjustments to my daily life, but this journey has been lifesaving from the start.”