This woman’s story shows how one organ donor could change the lives of a whole family.
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LiveOnNY Good-Hearted

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 at 29 years old. Image via LiveOnNY.

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.

Lauren, her husband, and her daughter Sophia.  Image via LiveOnNY.

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.

Lauren and Sophia. Image by Meraki Photo, Inc via Lauren, used with permission.

She is one of more than 116,000 people waiting for organ transplants nationwide and one of 4,000 waiting for a new heart.

"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.

Lauren and Sophia. Image via LiveOnNY

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.

Image via LiveOnNY

"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."

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."