When Lauren Shields was just nine years old, she contracted a harmful virus that attacked her heart. By the time she made it to the hospital, she had gone into sudden cardiac arrest with her heart functioning at 14%. She was immediately added to the heart transplant waitlist with the status of “urgent need,” the highest status for transplant. While Lauren waited for a new heart, her other organs began to shut down and she was put into a medically induced coma. She was hooked up to a biventricular assist device (BIVAD), a machine that took over the pumping of her heart for her since hers couldn’t beat on its own. Thankfully, Lauren didn’t have to wait long in her comatose state as she received her heart transplant shortly after being induced.
At first, Lauren had some trouble adjusting to her new heart and she suffered from a stroke during the early stages of her recovery post-transplant. The stroke left her without the ability to walk, sit, swallow, and use her hands. She had to relearn how to perform these basic motor skills. After months of extensive physical and occupational therapy, she successfully regained these abilities that she had lost.
Once Lauren made a full recovery post-transplant, she immediately began advocating publicly for organ donation awareness—specifically, organ donor registration. Alongside the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, Lauren was instrumental in passing statewide legislation that required that the question of organ donor registration be mandatory to answer when registering for or renewing a driver’s license at all New York Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) locations. This piece of legislation was called “Lauren’s Law,” in honor of Lauren and her contribution to getting the law passed. Prior to the passage of the law, New York had the lowest number of registered organ donors in the country. Since Lauren’s Law was first passed in 2012, the number of registered donors in New York state has increased dramatically.
In addition to her work within the public domain on behalf of organ donation, Lauren currently participates in donor registration drives at DMVs around the state. Most recently, she organized a donor registration drive on her college campus, which resulted in 100 new organ donors registered. Lauren is an advocate for blood donation as well and works with the New York Blood Center (NYBC) to promote and raise awareness of its importance. She is also involved with the Chris Klug Foundation (CKF) as a Donor Dude, in which she routinely engages in speaking opportunities on behalf of the foundation. Every year, she accompanies the CKF team on hospital visits in her home state of New York as a Patient Ambassador, where she shares her story with in-hospital transplant patients and medical staff.