Lauren was in her middle school gym jumping rope when suddenly, she went into cardiac arrest.
“I remember waking up in the ambulance,” she says.
Lauren has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a genetic condition that prevents the heart from pumping enough blood. This condition has no cure and while many people with HCM can live active lives with very few symptoms or even no symptoms at all, others live with chest pains, heart palpitations, and dizziness during exercise. It can also increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest. In fact, HCM is the leading cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes.
Lauren had been living with the condition since she was diagnosed at 12 years old — and it had already changed her life. Growing up, she had tried just about every sport and softball was her passion. HCM had meant that Lauren couldn’t be as active and sporty as she once had been, but she had been reluctant to give up on softball entirely.
“I remember crying, begging the doctor, please just let me play softball. Let me at least have that,” she says. So her doctor cleared her for some play — pitching and playing outfield — but not for running the bases. She also had been told to watch from the sidelines during certain gym class activities, like kickball.
This was really hard for Lauren. She hated being on the sidelines. So, even though she knew it was dangerous, she continued to test her limits — that is until that day when jumping rope landed her in the hospital.
“From that point, I understood,” she says. “I got the message that I can’t push myself.”
Eventually she gave up sports altogether and focused on her education and graduating from high school.
During her late teens and early 20s, she continued having medical appointments to check on her HCM, and things were going relatively well for a while. Also in her 20s, she got married and gave birth to her daughter, Sophia.
Everything changed again, though, when she was 28 and learned from a doctor that her heart medication wasn’t working. She would need a heart transplant to survive.
The news hit her and her family hard. They never expected her condition to get this bad. “Honestly, the transplant was … never even on the radar,” Lauren says.
“I just remember my dad leaving the room,” she continues. “He never cries, and I remember him crying.”
Lauren and her family have no idea when — or if — she’ll get the heart she needs.
“The doctors tell me it could be tomorrow, or it could be a couple years,” she says. “I just hope that it comes in time.”
Meanwhile, Lauren’s health is declining. She now has to stop and rest after even the simplest tasks, like wiping down her kitchen counter or helping Sophia tie her shoes.
But while she waits, she still finds ways to remain optimistic.
Lauren has decided to share her story with the organization LiveOnNY in order to help spread the word about organ donation because if she can inspire even one person to register as a donor, it could save up to eight lives.
Sophia is 5 years old now, and her bubbly personality is a big help to Lauren.
“She helps me realize that there is an after and that life will be better,” Lauren says.
Every evening, Sophia likes to do what she calls “cuddle bugging,” where she and her mom watch a movie or play a game together to wind down from the day.
Sophia also knows that Lauren needs the transplant, and she’s eagerly waiting for it.
“Every time I go to the doctor, she’ll always run up to me [saying], ‘Mommy, Mommy, did you get your new heart?'” Lauren says. “And I tell her, ‘No, not yet.'”
Sophia can’t wait for Lauren to join her and her dad on their Sunday bike rides after the transplant. And after seeing old photos of Lauren playing softball, she wants her mom to teach her how to play.
“The transplant would mean life,” she says. “I think when people think about organ donation they think of death, but in fact a big part of it is life … giving life to other people.”