Wearing a pin that read “Donate Life,” 12-year-old Lauren Shields stood in front of a group of family, organ donor advocates and others on Friday to talk about the importance of people enrolling in the organ donation program.
For without an donor, Shields, of Stony Point, herself probably wouldn’t have been able to speak Friday at the officer of State Senator David Carlucci. About three years ago, Shields was diagnosed with viral myocarditis and needed to have heart surgery. Lauren Shields was put on the donor list in February and had surgery in the middle of March. While a bit more than a month on the donor list might not seem too long, Lauren Shields’ mother Jeanne Shields said Lauren’s health was declining quickly every day.
“I never want anyone to have to wait as long as I did for a transplant,” Lauren Shields said Friday. “The law may have my name on it but it is not all about me. I am reminded of that each and every time I visit Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and meet with the kids that are waiting for transplants.”
Carlucci first met Lauren Shields about two years ago at a naturalization ceremony. Carlucci, as an advocate for organ donation, was talking with County Clerk Paul Piperato, who suggested bringing in advocates for organ donation to talk at naturalization ceremonies. Carlucci saw Shields speak at a ceremony and the two started working together on what would become Lauren’s Law.
“As a kid, it’s an overwhelming feeling to have a law named after you that will soon be signed by the governor,” Shields said. “A bill becoming a law is something I had only read about in textbooks at school, but the reason behind this one was so real to me.”
The law, which this week passed state senate after passing the assembly as well, makes it easier for people to enroll in the donor program. On the driver’s license application, the question about joining the program is now going to be mandatory, which Carlucci thinks should help increase the number of donors. The bill is just waiting to be signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and while Carlucci wasn’t sure when that would happen, he said Cuomo is aware of the issue and a supporter.
“It’s not recreating the wheel, it’s simply modeling what other successful states have done and implementing it here in New York state,” Carlucci said.
Ted Lawson, president of the Save Lives Now New York Foundation, said New York has the second lowest organ donor program registrations, but the second highest number of people on the waiting list for donations. Carlucci said there are more than 10,000 people in New York waiting for an organ donation, and that about two people on the list die everyday waiting to find a donor.
Shields has joined Carlucci in Albany multiples times to speak about her own surgery as well as advocate for passage of Lauren’s Law.
“By having Lauren going through the halls of Albany, meeting with the majority leader in the senate, the speaker in the assembly, it was easy to get those meetings because we had Lauren there and she was very articulate, well-spoken all the time and just had so much energy and never gave up,” Carlucci said. “So it’s just a true testament to the type of person that Lauren is.”
Helen Irving, CEO of the New York Organ Donor Network, said Lauren’s Law is a major step forward for the network and a sign of more to come.
“Lauren, you once told me that you were saved by an angel. I actually think you are our angel,” Irving said. “I can’t give you the keys the city, I’ll leave that decision to somebody else. But I would like to suggest that if you’re at mind to do so, there’s a position called the CEO of the New York Organ Donor Network that you might want to consider in a few years. I’ll just keep the seat for you for now.”
As for Shields, she just graduated from Willow Grove Middle School and is preparing for the start of seventh grade at Fieldstone Secondary School. Shields added that she likes to play the flute and is very energized and athletic.
“I vow to go out and continue to share my story in the hopes that as people go to the DMV, they choose ‘yes’ when filling out their form,” she said. “I will continue this as a tribute to the donor that saved my life.”