On Wednesday morning, February 18, 2009, Laura, our oldest daughter, had a seizure. She was rushed to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, and within a couple hours, we were told that our previously healthy 14-year-old had a brain tumor in her cerebellum. The neurosurgeon thought that he would be able to operate and remove the tumor that Friday. Unfortunately, Laura didn’t have the operation because by Wednesday evening she had stopped breathing, became unresponsive, and was transferred to the intensive care unit. On that Saturday it was determined that the pressure from the tumor had caused a catastrophic brain injury, from which she could not recover.
Prior to Laura’s sudden health crisis, she had experienced a headache for a couple weeks -- we weren’t overly concerned because we thought the headaches were due to school stress, a heavy backpack or the chlorine in her high school’s pool. A neurological exam by her pediatrician had not indicated any concerns. Unfortunately, the headaches were not from stress, but from medullablastoma, a very aggressive and cancerous brain tumor that often strikes children even younger than Laura.
Laura was an honor student at Nicolet High School who enjoyed school, friends, drawing, fashion design, writing, Spanish, yoga and traveling. She loved trading clothes with her two sisters, redecorating her room and getting together with friends and family. She loved helping others and was very motivated. Laura knew what she wanted to be when she grew up – editor in chief of a fashion magazine. She was an inspiration to everyone she knew.
On Saturday, February 21st, after receiving the devastating MRI results about the extent of Laura’s brain injury, a representative from the Wisconsin Donor Network met with us at the hospital. Organ donation was a topic we knew about and supported as an abstract concept, but we never imagined that we would be in such a tragic situation that would require us to make this type of decision for someone as precious to us as our daughter.
Once our other daughters (Sara, 12 and Rachel, 9) learned about the possibility of organ donation, they strongly insisted that this was something that Laura would have wanted and they urged us to consider it. After talking with our rabbi and family and learning more about how someone else could benefit from our decision, we came to the conclusion that donating her internal organs might provide a shred of hope and meaning to this devastating loss that we were experiencing.
In June of 2009, about four months following Laura’s death, we received a letter from the liver recipient. According to this powerful and heart-warming letter, Laura’s liver saved the life of a 40-year-old special education teacher who had experienced liver failure, perhaps in conjunction from the drugs she was taking to fight chronic myeloid leukemia. The liver recipient had been in a coma for over a week with liver failure and her husband was told by the doctors that she would probably not make it through the weekend without a transplant.
On Wednesday, August 18th, 2010, exactly 18 months from the day we rushed Laura to the hospital, we talked directly to the recipient and the abstract “liver recipient” became a living, breathing woman named Trish.
When we called Trish, she answered by telling us how excited she was to finally talk with us and how thankful she was for the gift of life. No one knew quite what to say, but we kept talking anyway. We told each other how happy we all were that everyone was doing well. Trish is back at work as a teacher, and we are developing a relationship with this wonderful woman who we are now connected to in a very meaningful and profound way.
We cannot reverse the course of events and bring Laura back to life, but through supporting brain cancer research and promoting organ donation, we are keeping Laura’s memory and legacy alive.