Today is my birthday. With any birthday, and especially as the numbers increase, I start to get sentimental. Some of the numbers still surprise me—I’ve been with my husband 27 years, married for 22. My daughter is 17 and graduating high school this spring and my son turned 15 yesterday. My youngest is in 6th grade and we only have another 6 ½ years with the kids at home.
I also get reflective on my birthdays, looking back on things I have accomplished (and things I haven’t). In June 2010 I had my first novel published. Change of Heart is about a 16 year old girl who needs a heart transplant. The publication of this novel has taken me to some wonderful places and it’s been a fabulous experience. But if I’m truly reflecting on what I feel the best about in all of the promotion I’ve been doing for the book, it’s the fact that I’ve been able to bring the message of organ donation registration to teens and other readers all over the world.
My husband Mat takes care of patients who are waiting for heart transplants. It can be a long wait for some of them and there are many cases where the patient dies before an organ is received. According to the Donate Life website, over 110,000 people are waiting for organs (including hearts, kidneys, lungs and other organs) and thousands more are in need of tissue and cornea transplants. In New York, only 18 percent of residents over the age of 18 are registered with the New York State Organ Donor Registry. Nationally, the average is 42 percent. If I had my way it would be 100 percent. Mat and I realized that as I was promoting my book, I had the forum to discuss organ donation registration.
It is a horrible thing to contemplate losing your life. But in the event of something like that happening, there’s a little bit of solace in knowing you can save other people’s lives. Throughout the course of writing Change of Heart, I spoke with many heart recipients. Their stories were all amazing and it was incredible to think that this huge advance in science, coupled with the generosity of a victim and their family, gave them a second chance at life.
This concept was never stronger than when I met Lauren Shields. Lauren was eight when she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and told that she needed a new heart. System by system her body was shutting down and she was on life support. She waited over a month and a half for her heart and was very lucky to receive one. I had spoken to her mother, Jeanne and heard Lauren’s story, but when Lauren came to one of my book events and I got to meet her, I was blown away. She was a miracle. She’s adorable and well-spoken—with a maturity beyond her years. Lauren is the best salesperson for NY Organ Donor Network. When you see her and hear her speak, you are convinced of the importance of organ donation registration.
Currently, “Lauren’s Law,” a law that would mandate that anyone who applies for a drivers license answer “yes” or “not at this time” to being an organ donor, has passed in the New York State Senate and is before the Assembly's Transportation Committee which must move it forward for a vote by the full Assembly.
Jeanne Shields told me that Lauren had said in a speech one time concerning her donor, "I know that even today their family must still feel such great pain from their loss but I hope that they get some relief in knowing that their child still lives on within another. I make them the promise that I will do good things with this heart. I will do it in honor of my angel that saved me."
As Jeanne said, “That is what it is all about. When you get a second chance, it's your duty to pay it forward. “
I know it sounds hokey, but many of my past birthday wishes have been for World Peace. Clearly, that’s impossible. This year, my birthday wish is more concrete—that everyone I know registers to be an organ donor and that no patient who needs one dies before they are able to receive it.
You can become an organ donor by indicating checking a box on your driver's license or you can register with your state's organ donor registry. In addition, you should make your wishes known to your family so that in a time of crisis they don't have to worry about the decision--it has already been made for them.