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St. Louis woman helps mend her best friend’s broken heart and then saves her life again

Carol Patrylo's son Todd donated his organs after being killed by a drunk driver. Years later she needed a kidney and her best friend didn't hesitate

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — When it seems like you're walking in circles, sometimes a friend can point you in the right direction.

"I think we had an instant connection," explained Carol Patrylo.

Patrylo said her friend Cindy Mueller saved her life. And she isn't exaggerating.

They met when they were both working as aides in the Lindbergh School District.

"I thought she was sweet and just loving and she thought I was nuts," Patrylo said with a laugh. "And I am crazier than a lunatic."

But Patrylo's world was shattered into little pieces when her 19-year-old son Todd was killed by a drunk driver in June 2000. Her only comfort was that Todd was an organ donor and helped save other lives.

"Three weeks before he died, he was doing Christian outreach in an orphanage in Ensenada, Mexico," Patrylo said. "Cindy was so supportive and helped me get through this."

But no one really gets through something like that. The light inside of her had gone out.

"I watched this woman lose her will to live," Mueller said. "There were times that I would go to her house and get her dressed and drive her to work, just so I knew she wouldn't lay in her bed all day."

Soon, her heart wasn't the only organ that was broken. After years of not taking care of herself, Patrylo went into stage 5 kidney failure and her doctor had to put her on dialysis.

"The problem with dialysis is every year on dialysis, your risk of dying goes up," said Dr. Chintalapati Varma of SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital.

Her best option was a kidney transplant and so, her best friend got tested to see if she was a match. 

"I didn't have to think about it," Mueller said. "It was an instant thing my best friend needs a kidney."

Almost miraculously, she was a match, but there was a problem. Mueller was overweight and pre-diabetic.

"I said, 'Well, I'm on a journey and I'm losing weight," Mueller recalled telling the doctors. "So, we're going to make this happen."

With diet and exercise, Mueller lost 54 pounds and then lost her kidney. Last month, doctors at SLU hospital put it in Patrylo during a successful transplant surgery.

"It's extremely rewarding for us, I mean that's why we went into this field," said surgeon Dr. Henry Randall. "That's all I can say. It's just rewarding."

Mueller called it a win-win.

"So, in giving her the gift of life, I was also able to get myself the gift of a healthy lifestyle," she said.

Patrylo is promising to make the most of her second chance.

One thing seems clear: for the rest of their journey, neither of these women will ever walk alone.

"I've got a lot to live for," said Patrylo. "And I'm so blessed to have a friend like Cindy."

Those interested in being a living donor can visit: www.ssmhealth.com/transplant