New York Governor Andrew Cuomo this week signed legislation to help increase organ donations. Sponsored by a Hudson Valley senator, the law is named for a Rockland County resident who received a heart transplant.
Lauren’s Law is now permanent. Lauren is Lauren Shields, a Stony Point resident who underwent a heart transplant when she was 8. The high school senior is now 17.
“Speaking firsthand and from a personal experience, transplantation does work and it saves lives. And I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t have my heart transplant and I wasn’t given a second chance at life,” says Shields. “And if it weren’t for someone who took the extra step to sign up to become an organ donor, I wouldn’t be here.”
State Senator David Carlucci, an Independent Democrat, sponsored the bill that removes expiration language.
“By having Lauren’s Law permanent, what it does is when you go to the DMV [Division of Motor Vehicles], you’re asked the question ‘would you like to be an organ donor, yes or skip the question,’” Carlucci says. “It’s something that you have to decide when you’re getting your driver’s license, when you’re getting your non-driver ID. So this is going to make a big difference. It’s really building upon the successes that we’ve had over the past few years.”
The bill first passed in 2012. Carlucci says some 10,000 New Yorkers are waiting for transplants. In fact, according to LiveOn NY, the state ranks last in the percentage of residents registered as organ donors. Brooklyn Democrat Félix Ortiz sponsored the bill in the Assembly. Democratic Assemblywoman Sandy Galef is a co-sponsor. She represents portions of Putnam and Westchester Counties. Her office found that, according to Donate Life America, as of 2016, Putnam County ranked 27th and Westchester, 52nd, of New York’s 62 counties in the percentage of residents registered as organ donors. Galef says education is key. Shields agrees.
“I just think it’s really important for everyone to stay educated on the cause and for people to continuously be reminded of how important it is in New York,” “I don’t want the law to just become permanent and then people forget about how important it is because there are always things that we can continue to do to increase the numbers.”
“So this is something we call mandated choice, that you’re really mandated to make a decision and, you can skip the question, but you have to decide to skip the question,” says Carlucci. “So we found that this is something that can dramatically increase the amount of people enrolling. Since it’s been on the books we’ve already seen a difference. We know there’s other things we need to do as well, but this is really the foundation of what I believe will turn things around in New York and save people’s lives.”
In addition to Lauren’s Law, Cuomo signed an executive order directing the state Health Department to work with all state agencies to provide additional opportunities to become an organ donor, including through an updated Donate Life Registry.
The subject of organ donation was on the big screen at the Woodstock Film Festival that wrapped up October 15. The documentary “Bean” tells the story of two young women who were a match on Tinder. One suffers from Lupus and was in kidney failure. The other, healthy, and, as it turned out after about a month of dating, a perfect kidney match. Lori Interlicchio says the choice was obvious no matter where the relationship was headed.
“And I don’t think that it was necessarily like I was head-over-heels in love with Alana, it was just like I’d never really thought about the idea that I could do this for a person before,” Interlicchio says. “And I remember having to tell my parents that, too, to get them to understand that if this was one of the girls on my cheerleading team, I’d want to get tested, or… when I went to the doctor’s appointment, I told them even if I’m not a match, I still want some more information about this to just see if I could do this for someone else because it just seems like this not crazy thing to do that could help someone a lot.”
Alana Duran talks about how both matches have changed her life.
“I guess now I’m just thinking, wow, so much has changed. And I don’t have to do dialysis anymore and my heart function has improved dramatically. So that’s great,” Duran says. “And then, with our relationship-wise, we’ve only been stronger and, I don’t know…”
“We just moved in together,” Interlicchio says.
“Yeah, we moved in together just this summer,” Duran says. “I actually made the move from New York to Michigan to be with Lori because I’m not going to do the long-distance thing anymore.”
Interlicchio attends law school in Michigan. The two initially lived on Long Island, and the transplant surgery took place at Stony Brook University Hospital in February 2016. Both 27-year-old Duran and 24-year-old Interlicchio aim to provide information and education about what it means to become a donor. And the film’s director is now on board with that mission as well.