Grand Junction, Colo.,
09:24 AM

St. Mary's caregiver gives patient a second chance at life thanks to a rare gift

Laura and Brittany

It is the time of year when everyone takes a moment to recognize the blessings in their lives and all that they are grateful for. This year in particular, Laura Patricks and Brittany Driscoll say they have much to be thankful for. 

In the early 2000s, Laura Patricks underwent extensive dental surgery to reconstruct the bottom plate in her mouth. After months of pain, she went to the Emergency Department at St. Mary’s Medical Center. Her blood tests revealed her 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. 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. He put Laura on a strict nutrition and exercise plan, and after several months, her kidneys were functioning at 20 percent. But unfortunately, that wasn’t enough, and she was placed on the transplant list.   

For three years, family members and friends offered to donate one of their kidneys, but they weren’t a match for various reasons. Laura remained optimistic but always feared that it wouldn’t happen. That is until a serendipitous encounter at Dr. Sobel’s office.   

During a routine appointment, Laura met Brittany Driscoll, a registered medical assistant who worked for Dr. Sobel in the Nephrology Department. 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 UC Health 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. Laura is incredible, and I was thrilled by the opportunity to help her.”   

Brittany underwent tests and scans to ensure she was mentally and physically healthy enough to donate and was approved the following week.   

When 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.    

Even though Brittany and Laura weren’t compatible, they each matched with another person on the living donor/recipient list. This meant that four people were matched, and in August of 2022, they all had surgery simultaneously – two gave a kidney, and two received one. The surgeries were a success and both Laura and Brittany are doing remarkably well.  

“The surgery went very well, and I was able to leave the next day,” said Brittany. “What I didn't realize was that our rooms in the hospital were right next to each other. It was an incredible feeling when I rang the bell to go home, to know that she was right there starting her new chapter in life.”   

During a special recognition ceremony in September, Brittany received an Award of Distinction from St. Mary’s and Donate Life. Laura surprised her with a dozen roses. The joyous, tearful reunion was the first time they had seen each other since their surgeries.   

“I believe that I started working at St. Mary’s for a reason,” said Brittany. “I feel like I was sent to save her life but what she didn't know was that she saved mine. I felt like I had a purpose, and I am living proof of what an organ donor can do. It is having a chance to give someone a better life. Every time I see Laura now, she is just glowing and so happy with a huge smile on her face. Seeing her smile is the best reward that anyone could ask for!” 

“It takes a special kind of person willing to donate a kidney to save a life,” said Laura. “The team at St. Mary’s has been incredible. Had it not been for the 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.”