Jackson County

‘She was a rock star.’ How the death of a Gulfport woman gave new life to a Dallas family

Timothy and Kortney McCaffrey, Jessica Barr, Nancy Lee, Ellen Duvernay, Mackenzie Saucier and Larry Duvernay honored the Duvernay’s late daughter, Brittany Saucier, whose lungs were donated to Lee in 2011 during the Ocean Springs Elks Parade on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018.
Timothy and Kortney McCaffrey, Jessica Barr, Nancy Lee, Ellen Duvernay, Mackenzie Saucier and Larry Duvernay honored the Duvernay’s late daughter, Brittany Saucier, whose lungs were donated to Lee in 2011 during the Ocean Springs Elks Parade on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018. jclark@sunherald.com

It’s been almost seven years since Brittany Saucier, a then 26-year-old wife and mother, died after falling off the back of a golf cart in her parent’s Gulfport neighborhood. Saucier’s daughter, Makenzie, was 4 years old at the time of her mother’s death.

The skies on Saturday were gray and there was a chill to the wind, as a chance of rain clung to the air, threatening at any moment to ruin the fun of those gathered for the Ocean Springs Elks Parade.

And although Ellen DuVernay chose her words carefully as she spoke about Saucier, her oldest daughter, she managed to smile through the heartache and pain because she was at the parade to pay tribute to her late daughter.

Saucier’s life was honored Saturday on the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency’s Mardi Gras float in the Elks Parade in Ocean Springs.

When Saucier died on Sep. 22, 2011, she was an organ donor. Hours after her untimely death, her lungs were flown to Dallas, where they literally breathed new life into 54-year-old Nancy Lee. Lee’s lungs were failing due to Hermansky-Pudlak syndrome, a rare genetic disorder with which Lee was born.

On Saturday, Lee and her daughter, Jessica Barr, joined the DuVernay family to remember Saucier’s sacrifice and celebrate Lee’s health.

“We first met Nancy and her family in 2013 because we had to wait a year before we could contact them,” DuVernay said. “A soon as we could contact them, we did so.”

She said the two families bonded through the transplant.

“Once Nancy and I started writing each other letters, my daughter Kortney and her daughter, Jessica, became close friends and now it’s like we are family.”

A sister’s loss

Kortney McCaffrey is Saucier’s younger sister. She said that losing her sister was extremely hard.

“Brittany was my best friend,” McCaffrey said. “I thought that I would never have a relationship with anyone again — she was a rock star.”

McCaffery said she befriended Lee after the transplant.

“We hit it off and it just seemed like we were meant to be best friends,” she said. “Nobody will ever take the place of my sister, but this is absolutely the closet thing possible — Jessica is the godmother of my daughter.”

Friends for life

Barr said Hermansky-Pudlak syndrome had caused her mother’s lungs to shut down due to pulmonary fibrosis and that a lung transplant was necessary. A year or so after the transplant, Barr said she received a very touching letter.

“I was actually working at the transplant clinic when the social worker stopped by my desk and dropped off a letter for my mom — I thought it was just some paperwork,” she said. “Later on, someone said, ‘I heard you got a donation letter.’ We read the letter together with the whole family and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Courtney and I bonded from the first time we met.”

Lee on Saturday said she is enjoying continued good health since the transplant.

“This is so amazing to be here in Ocean Springs,” Lee said. “Obviously, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the DuVernays’ and Brittany’s decision to be an organ donor.”

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