Lauren's Law — One Girl's Story From Patient to Advocate to Legislator

In an effort to increase the number of organ donors in New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed "Lauren's Law" on October 4, 2012. This would not have been possible, however without one of the youngest advocates for organ donation and the namesake of the law: twelve-year-old Lauren Shields.

From patient to organ donation advocate, Lauren Shields has showed strength and courage beyond her young age.

Despite being healthy throughout her childhood, unexplained fatigue around the time of her eighth birthday led to a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy, or an enlarged heart, and heart failure. The doctors were unable to identify a specific virus responsible for Lauren's illness, but they believed a virus had led to her heart disease. In March 2009, just before her ninth birthday, Lauren received a lifesaving heart transplant thanks to the gift made by the family of a Bronx teacher who was involved in a fatal accident.

Thankful for their good fortune, Lauren's mother, Jeanne Shields, says the family became involved in fundraisers and other events relating to organ transplantation in order to lend support to others facing similar challenges. In 2010, Senator David Carlucci, impressed with Lauren's dedication, approached her about helping to spread the word about organ donation and she embraced the opportunity. Lauren began giving speeches at numerous events throughout the tri-state are, sharing her story and urging listeners to follow in her donor's footsteps: register to be an organ donor, and 'become an angel' the way her donor had done.

When the senator proposed a law that would change the drivers license application in hopes to drive the number of organ donors, he asked Lauren to lend her name to the initiative. With over 116,000 people currently listed on the national registry, approximately 8,000 are from New York metropolitan area. Yet, compared to the average organ donor rate of 42%, New York is significantly lower – with only 18% enrolled to be organ donors. Lauren's Law will hopefully change this.

The new law will require all those over the age of 18 who are getting a new driver's license to answer whether they would like to join the state's donor list. This means that during the application, when asked to be an organ donor, they either must mark the box "yes" or "skip this question." Currently, this question is optional.

Lauren's Law will take effect next year and with it, ultimately increase the number of New Yorkers registering to be organ donors.

In an email message announcing the passage of the bill by the New York State Senate in September 2012, Senator Carlucci wrote, "We could not have done it without the tireless advocacy of 12-year-old Lauren Shields. The recipient of a heart transplant herself, Lauren puts a human touch on an issue that rightfully deserves its place in the spotlight. She has helped make history in New York State, and is about to show the entire country that one person can truly make a difference."