Gilbert hospital worker's organs go to 7 others after fatal crash
by Stephanie Russo and Daniel Jacka
The Arizona Republic
Lisa Marie O'Briant was an emergency-room technician at Gilbert Hospital for four years and a strong supporter of organ donation.
She died in a motorcycle accident on U.S. 60 on Dec. 4, and her organ pledge is still helping those with medical needs. The 22-year-old Tucson resident, who worked weekends in Gilbert, was studying to be a doctor. She signed up to be an organ donor when she was 16, and her organs were donated to help at least seven people.
"At least seven families got a Christmas present," Gary O'Briant, her father, said. "She was type O-negative, which made her organs especially good. The donor network took full advantage, and it was lifesaving for those families."
O'Briant was killed around 12:30 p.m. while she was riding on a motorcycle with her boyfriend, John James Drapaniotis, 27, of Gilbert, in the westbound lanes of the U.S. 60 between Greenfield and Higley roads.
A vehicle that was behind the two did not have time to stop when traffic slowed, and it struck O'Briant. She and Drapaniotis were thrown from the motorcycle, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves said.
"They weren't being reckless," Gary O'Briant said. "They were just going down the highway, doing nothing wrong when this tragedy happened to them like a lightning bolt from somewhere."
O'Briant was transported to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center in critical condition. She underwent three surgeries in less than 24 hours before she was pronounced dead.
In the weeks since their daughter's death, Gary O'Briant and his wife, Mary, who live in Rye, Colo., said their daughter was the kind of person who wanted to help people. They owned a Harley-Davidson shop in Colorado and realized the risks of motorcycles and the importance of being an organ donor and encouraged employees and customers to enlist as organ donors when they got their motorcycle permits.
"Right when she got her first Arizona license, she made sure they put her as a donor," he said.
Lisa O'Briant went to Xavier Preparatory College for high school and spent three years at St. Louis University. Over the past two years, she studied health sciences at the University of Arizona. She was set to graduate in May and had begun applying to medical schools. During the week, she would volunteer at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System in Tucson, having two parents who served in the U.S. Air Force. On weekends, she would drive up to Gilbert and stay with friends or family because she worked weekends at Gilbert Hospital, often doing 12-hour shifts.
"She loved the immediate care and the trauma unit," her father said. He said it was her strong work ethic that kept her involved.
Her mother said, "Lisa volunteered because she had fun. She didn't drag herself to St. Vincent de Paul over Thanksgiving because of any sense of duty or obligation. She did it because it gave her joy."
Mary and Gary O'Briant said their daughter had her life planned out and she worked toward achieving her goals.
"What made Lisa Marie so special? One word sums it all up: character. Her character exemplifies the very best this country has to offer. . . . She always gave you more than was asked. Good enough was never good enough for Lisa, always doing the extra things," Mary said.
Dr. Tim Johns, an emergency medicine physician who worked with O'Briant at Gilbert Hospital for four years, said he was not surprised that she was an organ donor, and he knows plenty of people could use what she donated.
"There are a ton of different ways she could be helping," he said. "Her skin alone could be used for tons of people."
Although O'Briant's organs benefited many, there is still a huge donor shortage. As of September, there are more than 108,000 people waiting for transplants in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to the American Red Cross, about 7 percent of people have type O-Negative blood like O'Briant, and that blood type can be donated to anyone.
Donations can be made to the Xavier Foundation Inc. to the Lisa Marie O'Briant Memorial Scholarship Fund, 4710 N. Fifth St., Phoenix, AZ 85012. For more information on becoming an organ donor, visit www.organdonor.gov.