By Deb Silverthorn
Lauren Stock has some special birthday wishes for those turning 18 years old. Not only does she like to send birthday greetings to those reaching that milestone age, she’d like to send an invitation to register to save a life through the National Marrow Donor Program.
Lauren’s the one to do it. The 12-year-old was honored last month by TurningPoint2012, the National Conference on Volunteering and Service, with the GenerationOn Excellence in Leadership and Service Award. She accepted her award from afar; she was spending her fifth summer at Camp Sabra in St. Louis, so she could not attend the conference in Chicago.
The rising eighth-grader at Greenhill School recognized the need for bone-marrow donors four years ago, after her mother, Karen, was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma. Lauren founded High School Heroes to educate students on how they can make a difference and save someone’s life when they turn 18.
On a student’s 18th birthday, she sends an e-mail that includes a brief version of her story, why they should register and a link to a website explaining how they can register.
“My mom getting sick changed my world and really made me want to make a difference,” Lauren said. “The most important thing I learned while my mom was sick was how many people want to help. I thought about how I could make a difference by getting others involved.
“There are so many people who need a match, and it’s so easy to sign up. I want kids to know that from a young age, they might be able to save someone’s life,” said Lauren, who registered 20 percent of Greenhill’s Class of 2012 and also spoke to Hockaday School students. “It just takes a few minutes and a one-time cheek swab to get registered, but you stay on the list until you are 55.”
Lauren hopes her High School Heroes forum will find her speaking at schools and organizations throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area and beyond.
Adults who work with her have high praise for Lauren’s efforts.
“The pinnacle for a child Lauren’s age is to see how she took a trial in her life and turned it in to lemonade,” said Sally Rosenberg, director of service learning and community service at Greenhill. “You could have heard a pin drop in the room as she spoke to our students, who gave her their full respect.”
Amy Roseman agreed. She is a Dallas donor recruiter for DKMS, the world’s largest donor registration organization, who helped Lauren coordinate her efforts.
“To see Lauren’s passion, to watch her get up and speak, is really inspiring. Lauren’s reaching out to teens, even before they reach the 18-year-old milestone, this is how lives will be saved,” Roseman said. “She has taken a difficult time in her family’s life and turned it in to something really amazing.”
Lauren’s mother, now healthy and bubbling with pride over her daughter’s commitment, found a donor with many coincidences. Karen’s donor, Keith Alpern, who provided her April 2009 transplant, registered to donate 13 years earlier while a student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., where Karen and her future husband, Aric, met.
Alpern also met his future wife, Liz, at the university. Little did any of the parties realize a connection until Aric’s brother, Adam, in Chicago, posted family holiday cards together on a mantelpiece.
“The difficult part about my being sick was what I thought the impact would be on my family,” Karen said of her concern for Lauren, Aric, son Matthew and their extended family. “When I look back, what I see now is the positive of all of this, and I’m really so proud.”
Lauren is reaching the right age group, her mother said.
“Young people are the best matches and people talking is the best public relations possible,” said Karen. “When I was first sick, Lauren wanted to raise money for the cause, but she realized that what is really needed is donors. Lauren was going to do whatever she could.”
Lauren, who has been dancing at the Texas Ballet Theatre since she was 2 and played on Greenhill’s softball team, found her first “audience” for this cause among her friends. She visited all Lower School classrooms at Greenhill four years ago while her mother was awaiting a donor. Lauren passed out information and asked all the students to go home and have their parents register. That was just the start.
“There is a reason they call those who connect a ‘miracle match,’” said Andy Cohen, a longtime participant in many areas of Dallas’ Jewish community. Some 23 years ago, he first went with his wife, Karen, to be typed for the National Marrow Donor Program. Just six months later, Karen was matched to a 37-year-old woman living in Seattle.
Andy was matched in 1998 to an 11-year-old boy in California and, in 2004, to a 49-year-old man with leukemia, for whom he harvested blood stem cells.
“My giving blood-producing cells is certainly a gift for the recipient, though in my mind, I receive every bit as much benefit as the recipient does. At the end of the day, what truly matters is what each of us has personally done in our lifetimes to make a difference to another human being.”
Lauren, who will celebrate her bat mitzvah in August at Temple Shalom, has only begun to make her mark as a “member of the Jewish community,” she said.
For information or to schedule a High School Heroes program, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To register to donate, visit www.dkmsamericas.org/register or contact Roseman at email@example.com.