Lauren Clark of Lido Beach had just obtained her driver’s license. She was 18 and a high school senior. On the night of Dec. 30, 2008, her life and the lives of three people she would never meet changed forever.
“I wish I wasn’t here today telling my story,” said Lauren’s mother, Coleen Clark, “but it started at about 10:30 at night. We received a phone call that every family dreads, that our beautiful 18-year-old daughter, Lauren, had been struck by a car crossing Hempstead Turnpike.”
Ms. Clark, a retired police officer, spoke at a National Organ Donor Enrollment Day event at Peconic Bay Medical Center Thursday morning. Lauren underwent surgery at Nassau University Medical Center and was brought out a few hours later, when the doctors informed the family that Lauren had lost all brain function.
“As a police officer, I had seen many battered and bruised, bloody bodies,” Ms. Clark said, “but it never prepares you for when you walk into a room and see your beautiful daughter laying on a bed, all kinds of tubes and machines keeping her alive.”
No miracle came and the Clark family, sitting around a table of doctors, organ donor reps, a psychologist and a priest, decided they would donate Lauren’s organs. Both of her kidneys and her liver were still viable.
“On New Year’s Day 2009, our Lauren died, but she saved three lives,” her mother said.
As part of the event, nurses at the hospital began their overnight shift by going around the hospital seeking people to sign up to become organ donors. Amy Leob, deputy executive director at PBMC, said 10 people signed up to become organ donors that night.
By the next afternoon, an additional 18 people registered. Much of the PBMC staff were already committed donors, Ms. Loeb said.
Data from LiveOnNY, a nonprofit organ procurement organization, finds that New York ranks last in the nation in terms of the percent of residents registered as organ donors. The group also found that every 18 hours, someone in the state dies waiting for an organ — and with only 35% of residents registered, compared to 56% of residents across the rest of the nation.
Residents of New York ages 16 and older can register to be organ donors by joining the New York State Donate Life Registry. Click here to find out more.
Four-month-old Ruby Cotter, who was born at PBMC, is one of 9,549 people in the state currently on the transplant waiting list. She needs a heart. She entered into heart failure a few months prior and is currently being treated at New York Presbyterian. Ruby’s father, Brian Cotter, said his daughter is staying strong and was given a Berlin Heart, which is a heart pump that maintains blood flow in babies and small children.
“I never thought this would be something that would happen to us in our life,” said Mr. Cotter. “But she still needs a heart.”
Dr. Ken Mayer, 39, of Hamptons Bays serves as director of hospital medicine at PBMC. He was a teenager when he found out he had a rare genetic kidney disease.
“I lived my life, becoming a doctor, going to work, getting married and when [my wife] was pregnant with our first child …” the doctor said, ‘It’s almost time to start looking for a donor.’ ”
It turned out his wife, Melissa, was a match.
“She had the baby,” Mr. Mayer said. “She had another baby, so, two kids and seven or eight years later … Melissa was, luckily, still willing.”
Mr. Mayer received his wife’s kidney in August 2015. He said he missed only about eight weeks of work, and has since fully recovered.
“Her kidney has allowed me to continue on being a physician, continue on being a husband, continue on being a father to my two girls and just living our amazing and complete life,” he said.
And George Dozier, who has been working in housekeeping at PBMC for 27 years, realized his liver was failing when, after years of prompting, he went to donate blood in 1995.
“I didn’t believe it at first,” he said. “I kept working and one day I got sick and I’m like, ‘Wow. Something ain’t right.’ A couple days later, I woke up and I didn’t even recognize my own self.”
Mr. Dozier said his doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital and those at PBMC helped him through the process and that in 2004, while in his late 30s-early 40s, he received his liver.
“I thought I was going to die,” he said.
Today, Mr. Dozier is healthy and though he is now on a waiting list for a kidney, his spirits are high.
“I’ll get a kidney one day,” he said, urging people to consider living donations, too. “If I never would have donated that blood, I never would have known myself that I was sick.”
Melissa Mayer said she didn’t think much about what it meant to be a donor at first.
“After the surgery and after I heard Ken was OK and I was OK and they were wheeling me up to my room, the nurses by the nursing station started clapping for me,” she said. “I was like, ‘Of course, I was going to give a kidney to my husband,’ They said: ‘No, you saved a life today.’ And until then, it didn’t really occur to me that I had the power inside my body to save a life.”
Top photo caption: George Dozier was the recipient of a liver and he’s waiting now for a kidney. He was presented with a birthday cake at the end of the event. (Credit: Mahreen Khan)