By: Kathy Kahn
Love, luck and a wonderful team of doctors and nurses helped give Dominican College student Lauren Shields a renewed lease on life.
We first introduced Lauren to readers back in June, 2018. At that time, the Stony Point high-schooler was celebrating the 10th anniversary of her heart transplant at the age of nine.
Lauren’s advocacy for organ donations after she received the life-saving donation resulted in 2017’s Lauren’s Law, which requires any person registering for driver’s license in New York State to answer whether or not they would like to become an organ donor upon death. Previously, applicants could skip over the question. She has continued to work for LiveOnNY (formerly the New York Organ Donor Network).
Little did Lauren know that she would again be seeking an organ donor. As a result of the many medications, she took so her body would not reject her transplanted heart, one of her kidneys began to fail—and fail rapidly. In January, 2020, she learned she had Stage 3 kidney disease. “It came on so suddenly,” said Jeanne Shields, Lauren’s mother. To stave off dialysis, Lauren’s diet was changed, she kept herself hydrated until it could be avoided no longer: mom was driving her now 19-year-old daughter to three hours of dialysis, three times a week–and watching as she painfully got worse. “It was so draining for her. She lost so much weight…she’s petite to begin with, but before she received the transplant, she was down to 68 pounds; and after the sessions, I would carry her back to the car, she was too weak to walk” said Mrs. Shields.
“It was definitely scary,” said Lauren. “I had been back to living life fully—enjoying school, working, dating, and then I got hit with this. Like many other transplant patients, I had issues because the medications you have to take are harsh and can-do real damage to other organs.”
Fortunately there was a silver lining in the dark cloud, as doctors determined mom Jeanne was the donor everyone prays for: a perfect match for her daughter in every way. As Covid-19 simmered over the summer, Lauren and her mother underwent surgery at Columbia Presbyterian. Within days of the receiving the kidney her mother donated, Lauren was up and around, and so was her mother. Both went boxing, a regular routine they had established and enjoyed together. Lauren returned to class at Dominican College in September, and although she’s taking all her classes remotely, she achieved all A’s at the end of semester. It seems this was a match made in heaven.
Jeanne Shields says the love and prayers of the many people Lauren and her family have come to know as a result of her daughter’s advocacy helped give them the strength and confidence to face whatever came their way. “Seeing her smile, decorating the tree together and knowing my son was coming home for Christmas makes me especially feel especially grateful.”
USMC lst Lt. Brandon Shields, currently receiving training at flight school in Florida, saved up whatever time he could and managed to have enough leave to come home for Christmas and stay until after the New Year. “This whole experience was pretty incredible,” said Lt. Shields. It was terrible not to be here to support my mom and sister, especially since they were both going through it, so I’m grateful they had a swift recovery. The fact that they were back to almost full health only a week after the surgery was pretty impressive.” Mom says because of Lauren’s first transplant, the family has regularly been sanitizing their home and themselves to prevent any unwelcome germs that might compromise Lauren’s health. “We are already in the ‘clean’ mode in our home and have been for many years,” said Mrs. Shields. “We’ll continue to do this long after Covid is just a horrible memory.”
Lauren hopes her studies, which focus on health science, will someday lead to a position working at Columbia-Presbyterian. “I had both my transplants there. The doctors and the staff have a wonderful rapport with their patients—it’s the best hospital!”
We here at Rockland County Times wish Lauren Shields and her family the very happiest of Christmases. 2020 has proved to be a year none of us will forget—for Lauren and her mother, Jeanne, it will be most memorable for as the year they shared the gift of life.
Photo: Lauren Shields and her mom, were back to boxing a week after their successful kidney “share” between parent and child