Thursday, December 8, 2011

One Smart Nurse

I was told there were flowers—lots and lots of flowers.  And the occasional balloon bouquet.  I was told they arrived almost daily and, one by one, they were sent down to the children’s area of the hospital.  My ICU room was small and every bit of space was needed for machines and IV poles and the lone reclining chair in which one family member or close friend would spend the night.  Besides, I wasn’t exactly what you’d call “responsive” during those weeks. It wasn’t like I could actually appreciate the flowers and balloons.

And then, I was told, the flowers stopped arriving.  And in their place came notes—notes that said things like “I gave blood in honor of Lauren today” and “We set up a blood drive to help Lauren.”

Why the change?

A nurse. One very smart ICU nurse who knew that I was draining the local blood supply with my nonstop internal hemorrhaging.  She saw the needs of the various people involved: my family’s need to “do” something; neighbors’, friends’ and work colleagues’ need to show they cared; the local blood center’s need to replenish the red blood cells, platelets, and plasma that I was using at a disproportionate rate; and, of course, my need for more blood. And then that one smart nurse offered my family a suggestion that would meet all of our needs.

“You might want to ask Lauren’s friends who are sending flowers to give blood instead,” she said.  My family responded with enthusiasm.  The only bit of information they wanted in order to get started was how our friends could direct the blood they donated to me.

“Well, that’s just it,” the nurse said. “They can’t. These donations would be in honor of Lauren, but not necessarily for Lauren. But that doesn’t mean it’s not helping.  It’s replacing the blood that she’s been using.  And some of it might make its way to her, but there are no guarantees.” 

Life in the ICU
That was good enough for my family. They began putting the word out in full force, not just locally but to friends and extended family members across the U.S.  My mom manned our home phone and asked everyone who called to give an hour of their time and a pint of their blood. My siblings sent mass e-mails, which were then forwarded on from there. One neighbor organized a blood drive at her school while another organized a neighborhood drive. One of my brother’s clients hosted a drive and had everyone who donated sign a get-well poster for me. My former employer launched their inaugural blood drive, which has become an annual event still in place today.

By giving the loved ones of an ICU patient a focus—something proactive they could do when there was little else to do but wait—one nurse set in motion a ripple effect that would save countless lives with the blood that was donated as a result. Imagine the impact if we could mobilize nurses worldwide to offer this one simple suggestion to their patients’ families.

I wish I knew which of my dozens of nurses it was who made that one simple suggestion during my illness twelve years ago.  I would thank her for knowing how important it was to replenish the blood supply, as well as for understanding how badly my family needed her directive for their own survival of the ICU.

Whoever you are: damn you’re good!  And, oh yeah, thank you.

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Lauren's book, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances (In The Telling Press, 2011), is the #1 Top Rated memoir on Kindle. Hardcover copies are available at, or signed copies can be ordered at Happy Reading!

Friday, November 18, 2011

People Like Pete

My favorite thing about my job isn’t the satisfaction of raising money for great blood services initiatives.  It isn’t my funky little D.C. office that’s spitting distance from the White House and 1.5 blocks from a fabulous oyster bar. It isn’t even the paycheck (trust me—it’s not the paycheck).

Corny as it sounds, my favorite aspect of this work is the people I get to meet while I’m out there doing my thing.  Sure, I meet a lot of fellow “train wrecks,” as we multi-gallon blood recipients often jokingly refer to ourselves.  And I meet a lot of “angels”—those multi-gallon blood donors who often demur that it’s nothing. But every so often, I have the privilege of meeting someone like Pete.

Pete has no personal tie to the blood cause.  He doesn’t work for a blood center or for any sort of company remotely in the transfusion medicine arena.  I don’t even know if he donates blood (though ten bucks says he does).

Pete owns Alignment Enterprises, a brand-building company that specializes in live event production. I was introduced to him eight months ago via email when a mutual friend suggested he get in touch with me.  His first correspondence began with this: Mary Richardson sent me your way.  I would be honored to support you, the Foundation for America’s Blood Centers and the Preeclampsia Foundation with your important gala event, Saving Grace.

Now, me being me, I assumed I had another vendor on my hands willing to help me—for a hefty fee—with the huge fundraiser I was co-chairing. So I shot Pete a quick email back: I hope Mary clarified that we do not have an event budget to work with—hopefully that won’t scare you away. Pete’s reply was immediate and emphatic: Count me in!

Thus began a working relationship I would come to cherish.

Pete stepped in with a team of professionals who each brought a special talent to the gala-planning process: writing, production management, audio-visual, photography, videography.  He launched weekly conference calls, during which a dozen of us would participate in the development of the live program for the first-ever public dinner gala being co-hosted by the foundation I head up. He even secured the (pro bono) help of a world-renowned musical composer and conductor, who then wrote an original song for the cause to be performed live at the gala.

Having worked on some fairly major events in my PepsiCo brand management days, I knew how much time and effort Pete’s team was putting into the creation of the Saving Grace program. And every time I sent Pete yet another email of gratitude, the response was pretty consistent: It’s my honor to be involved, Lauren.

When “game day” arrived (last Saturday), Pete and his crew were as supportive and upbeat as they’d been at the outset. They hustled about the grand ballroom adjusting lighting, testing microphones, marking up the stage. My co-chair, Patrick, and I were joking during the rehearsals that we would have been “dead in the water” if not for Pete.  And by joking I mean not really.

Last February, Pete was a complete stranger. But by the time he and I shared a celebratory cocktail in the hotel bar at midnight, this complete stranger had become a dear friend.

It’s all about the people. 

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Lauren's book, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances (In The Telling Press, 2011), is the #1 Top Rated memoir on Kindle. Hardcover copies are available at, or signed copies can be ordered at Happy Reading!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Give Blood. Or I'll Just Take It.

Every year, starting in early September, I hear the same question over and over and over again: “Mom, what are you going to be for Halloween this year?” This question is usually followed by the admonition, “PLEASE don’t wait until the last minute and throw on that stupid witch costume again.”

Halloween is my daughter’s favorite “holiday,” and I don’t have the heart to tell her it’s not really a holiday.  Every year since Clare was 4 years old, we’ve hosted a wild Halloween dance party (as wild as 60 kids and their parents can get), at which costumes are mandatory regardless of age. Parents like to gripe about this facet of our shindig, yet once ensconced in their alter egos, most of the adult attendees have a rip-roarin’ good time unleashing their inner children – and those who don’t aren’t invited back.

Once again, this year I found myself too busy to think about my costume and no clever ideas were popping into my head. Two days before the party, I was still leaning toward blowing the cobwebs off “that stupid witch costume” when Clare asked if we could go to the giant Halloween store.  

Opening in a different retail space each year for one month only, this year’s location happened to be right next to the local Bonfils Blood Center. We had just had our first snow of the season and some of the Bonfils blood collection staff had built a little snowman – complete with a Bonfils hat – right by the entrance to the Halloween store.

And just like that I knew what I was going to be for Halloween: a Blood Donation Advocate.  

Not the kind of blood donation advocate I've spent the last decade being.  Not the kind that flies around giving talks, emceeing events, and participating in media interviews.  No, this blood donation advocate would take an entirely different approach to ensuring that people "gave blood."

Two days later I donned my costume, splashing fake blood all over myself, a pair of hospital scrubs, and one of the myriad “Give Blood” t-shirts I’d acquired over the years. After topping off my outfit with a few fake bloody knives, I laughed myself silly at the absurdity of how I looked. 

And then I thought about the number of times I had counseled other newer blood donation advocates, their auras just oozing with the desire to help. I remembered when Marianne, a heart transplant patient turned blood and organ donation advocate, called me almost in tears over the apparent indifference she was encountering as she set out to convince others to care about the cause. 

“What is wrong with these people?” she lamented to me. “Don’t they get it? I want to slap some of them – or just tie them down and take the blood from them!” I remembered how I’d told her to let it go, that we could only lead a horse to water, but we couldn’t make him, well, give blood

“Listen,” I’d said to Marianne, “We can’t force people to care.  Some will and some won’t. We can only share our stories, straight from the heart, and hope they resonate with enough people that the blood centers get the donors they need coming through their doors.”

And yet for one night, I got to play with the idea of being a different sort of blood donation advocate – the kind that just goes out there and takes what’s needed. Fun – not to mention tasteless – as it was, when my midnight shower washed off the last of the fake blood, I was back to a more subtle form of advocacy: Sharing stories of despair and hope. Touching hearts to inspire action.

Give blood. 

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Lauren's book, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances (In The Telling Press, 2011), is the #1 Top Rated memoir on Kindle. Hardcover copies are available at, or signed copies can be ordered at Happy Reading!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Throwing Up and Slowing Down

So there I was, racing from my physical therapy appointment (my body is breaking down) to my hair appointment (my roots are acting up). I had only 25 minutes to get across town—and find something to eat along the way.  I swung into my favorite midday stomping ground, Chipotle, and grabbed a burrito to go.  While sitting at the stoplight at 28th and Canyon, I scarfed down a few bites in hopes of not having to take my lunch into the hair salon with me.

As soon as the light changed and I turned the corner, I realized that chewing might’ve been a good idea. A lump of tortilla, cheese, beans and rice had parked itself halfway down my throat, refusing to move all the way to my stomach. The inability to take a full breath was immediate and noticeable.  My eyes began to water and my heart raced as I told myself not to panic—all the while still driving. Hello?!

An image flashed through my mind: awakening in a hospital bed and having to explain to the doctors how a burrito was responsible for the three-car pile-up I’d caused. Or worse, coming to on The Other Side and realizing I’d croaked in such an unseemly manner.  Funny, yes.  Dignified, no. I realized I wasn’t ready to learn who won the bet about the afterlife: me (it exists) or Jeff (it doesn’t), so I decided to pull into the first parking lot and put an end to this lodged burrito nonsense.

The idea of barfing came to mind, but know this: I. Hate. To. Barf.  If given the choice of barfing when I have food poisoning or writhing in guttural pain for two days, I’ll choose the latter. When Clare has the stomach flu, I make Jeff rub her back while she kneels at the toilet (seeing someone barf makes me barf). And if it’s Jeff who has stomach issues, he’s on his own.  Um, sorry honey, but you know how I feel about barf. 

So let me paint the full and disgusting picture for you. A 49-year-old woman is sitting behind the wheel of a minivan in a left-hand-turn lane when she suddenly grabs the trashcan off the floor and hurls ten percent of a mostly intact burrito into it. Then she laughs at the absurdity of the situation, makes her turn, realizes she’s activated the gag reflex, picks the trashcan up and hurls again—all while still driving. Then she pulls into a parking spot and gets hit with another gag reflex, releasing a final dollop of what appears to be guacamole into the trashcan.


After gargling with iced tea, I sat quietly for a minute to (dare I say) digest what had just happened. I tend to see life as symbolic, full of signs in the unlikeliest of circumstances. This one was pretty damn clear. Slow the fuck down, Lauren. Take time to digest life, to tackle things one bite at a time—not five bites at a time. Pace yourself.

I sat in the quiet of the idling car for several more minutes, simply enjoying the feeling of a full and deep breath. I vowed (again) to change, to slow the pace of my life, to let go of the unrealistic goals that constantly bait me to run through life at breakneck speed. Eventually, I made my way to the hair appointment, driving slowly and deliberately, and arriving a bit late.

And to answer your question: yes, I did, in fact, finish the burrito.  Hey, a girl’s gotta eat, right?
It's the new me: Ommmmm. Ommmmm. Ommmmm. 

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Lauren's book, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances (In The Telling Press, 2011), is the #1 Top Rated memoir on Kindle. Hardcover copies are available at, or signed copies can be ordered at Happy Reading!

Sunday, October 16, 2011


“He was the size of a Coke can.”

It’s been years since interviewing Jocelyn for a video Jeff and I were producing, but that description of her severely premature baby still sticks in my memory.  The size of a Coke can. Unbelievable.

Jocelyn had developed preeclampsia during her first pregnancy and, in order to save her life, her baby boy was delivered via cesarean at 26 weeks (37-42 weeks is considered full-term).  He weighed just 1 pound, 6 ounces.

Connor was unable to breathe on his own, so he was immediately intubated and whisked off to the neonatal intensive care unit.  When Jocelyn was recovered enough to see him, a nurse took her in a wheelchair to visit her newborn in the NICU.

“His skin was translucent,” she told me. “You could pretty much see through him.”

Connor was so vulnerable the doctors had covered his tiny body in bubble wrap even though he was in a heated incubator.  Unable to hold him, Jocelyn was only permitted to slide her finger into the incubator and stroke her baby’s foot, which was smaller than her thumbnail.

Over the coming days, the reality of her baby’s situation sunk in. Jocelyn and her partner were warned that Connor likely wouldn’t survive.  Or if he did, he’d probably deal with lifelong medical challenges.

Preeclampsia is an insidious disease.  The warning signs can be subtle if not completely nonexistent.  The symptoms are not exclusive to preeclampsia, making diagnosis more difficult.  And, to date, no definitive diagnostic tool or cure is available in the U.S.

In the years since my own bout with severe preeclampsia, I’ve met countless individuals whose lives will never be the same as a result of this pregnancy-related disorder.  I met a 30-something man who explained that he and his wife shared a love of cross-country skiing.  Then he told me how he’d spread her ashes through their favorite snow-covered wooded area while on skis after preeclampsia claimed her life. He is raising their daughter as a single dad.

A woman I now consider a friend opted for adoption after the disease claimed her baby’s life, and nearly hers as well.  Years later when she inadvertently got pregnant, she terminated the pregnancy for fear preeclampsia would strike again.  To this day, she suffers great emotional angst over her choice.

And many of my “preeclampsia sisters”—as we jokingly refer to ourselves—deal with ongoing health issues, which are not well-understood by our primary healthcare providers, as the research on the lifelong impact of this disease is lacking.

For Jocelyn, preeclampsia meant simply going to the NICU to sit with her baby day after day, week after week, and then—month after month. She spent 10 hours each day at his side, intermittently crying.  At night, she slept while her partner sat with the baby.  She approved procedures, signed medical forms, and yes, witnessed first-hand what a neonatal transfusion can do for a tiny little boy who came into the world far too soon.

Last night I went on Jocelyn’s Facebook page just to admire the photos of a handsome little eight-year-old boy named Connor. He’s got a great smile, one that suggests a life of joy and silliness and love. From the “size of a Coke can” to a walking miracle. 


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Friends:  I'm co-chairing a dinner gala to benefit the Preeclampsia Foundation and the Foundation for America's Blood Centers.  I'd love to have you join us to help these two great causes.  You can even heckle me during my speech if that'll get you there. And if you can't attend, you can still support our effort by making a donation at: Thanks!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Laughing With Bonnie

Dylan and Christine
Today I'm headed to Vegas to perform a wedding ceremony.  Stop laughing. (I know who you are.) 

The bride-to-be is my tattoo-covered goddaughter, Christine, who will be marrying her tattoo-covered boyfriend, Dylan.  Also present will be their two-month-old baby girl, Reilly (not yet tattooed).  Noticeably absent will be Christine's mother, Bonnie. 

Bonnie and I met 20 years ago when we both worked at the world headquarters of a Fortune 50 company. Her infectious laugh--especially at my immature jokes--was an attribute that stood out amidst the sea of oh-so-serious MBA-types in our sterile work environment. But it was her sense of compassion for the underdog, and the passion with which she strove to create fairness in an often-unfair world, that cemented our friendship. Bonnie weighed no more than 95 pounds, yet inside that tiny body was an enormous heart.

Within a year of meeting, she and I decided to go into business together. A single mom, Bonnie loaded her two kids, two cats, and two gerbils in the car and moved from New York to Los Angeles, where I had recently relocated. (By the time they arrived, they were down one gerbil.)

We spent long nights working on our business plan, usually over wine and lots of laughs. We encouraged each other to go on blind dates, and then laughed together when those dates were a complete flop. We cooked holiday meals together, took her kids to Chuck E. Cheese’s together, and spent a lot of time visualizing big plans for our respective futures. But mostly, we laughed.

Our business didn’t work out, but our friendship remained rock solid. In time, I relocated back east again for another corporate job, but we stayed in touch. One day, a mutual friend, Kelli, called to tell me that Bonnie was in the hospital. While at the public library with her kids, Bonnie had begun hemorrhaging profusely. As she lay on the floor of the library about to lose consciousness, she told her seven and nine-year-old to call Kelli and then lock themselves in the car until Kelli arrived to retrieve them.

At the hospital, doctors discovered that Bonnie had uterine cancer that was so advanced, her body was actually trying to abort her uterus; thus, the massive hemorrhage. Bag after bag of blood was transfused and an emergency hysterectomy was performed. Following the surgery, there was heated discussion about chemotherapy. Without it, some of her doctors argued, Bonnie would die. Others said that because of her weight, chemo would surely kill her. Ultimately, her lack of health insurance made the final decision: no chemo.

Once Bonnie’s health stabilized, she got serious about handling the legal paperwork for my guardianship of the kids if she were to die while they were still minors. Suddenly, as a single-woman with no dependents, I was contemplating the likelihood of instantly becoming a mother. But I should’ve given Bonnie more credit. When it came to having a goal about which she cared deeply, she was like a dog with a bone. And Bonnie’s goal was clear: to raise her kids herself.

After a decade in remission, her cancer returned with a vengeance, and shortly after Christine’s eighteenth birthday, Bonnie died in her sleep. Her two now-grown children, a handful of friends, and I took a boat out to sea and spread her ashes. Then we went to a restaurant and drank her favorite champagne and told stories about her and laughed until our sides hurt. Because Bonnie would’ve wanted that.

For her wedding tomorrow, Christine has asked me to incorporate stories of her mother into the ceremony. Thus, while Bonnie’s absence will be palpable, her presence will be undeniable. And I suspect this will be one of those weddings that involves a lot of laughter.
Bonita Louise Young
1955 - 2005
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Lauren's book, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances (In The Telling Press, 2011), is the #1 Top Rated memoir on Kindle. Hardcover copies are available at, or signed copies can be ordered at Happy Reading!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Can You Imagine?

A question for all you parents out there: Do you remember when you first held your baby? Do you remember the overwhelming sense of love you felt for that tiny soul who’d just come into your life? Now can you even imagine resenting that baby?  Can you imagine wishing that you’d terminated the pregnancy months before when you had the chance?

It shames me to say that I know that feeling, the one about resentment.  I know what it feels like to be in such indescribable physical pain as a result of being pregnant that you wish you could go back in time and do the unthinkable. 

Today, most people who learn of my experience nearly dying in childbirth immediately want to reach for the Hallmark version of the story: how I must’ve missed my baby so much when she was sent to live with my brother’s family 400 miles away while I struggled to stay alive in the ICU. But that’s just not true.

My experience with childbirth – my first and last – was skewed by the onset of a very common pregnancy-related disorder called preeclampsia, which claims the lives of 76,000 moms and half a million babies every year.  Every year. 

For me, preeclampsia meant multiple organ failure, massive blood transfusions, and pain. Lots and lots of pain. It taught me that it’s possible to suffer so intensely that no amount of morphine can quell it, and no amount of maternal love can overcome it. By the time I was released from the hospital and my baby came home to live with my husband, Jeff, and me when she was two months old, my resentment had shifted to a different emotion – failure. I felt I had failed as a mother before I even began mothering.

Not everyone who deals with preeclampsia goes through the same emotions that I did. I’ll bet my friend Leticia never resented her baby.  How could she? Four days after he was born prematurely due to preeclampsia, he died. And what emotions must my friends John and Brenda have felt as they held their first grandchild shortly after preeclampsia took their daughter’s life? How does my friend Chris feel every time she takes one of her triplets to yet another doctor appointment to address the ongoing health issues tied to their preeclampsia-induced prematurity?

Preeclampsia is capable of causing such utter despair.  And the antidote to despair is hope.  For millions of new moms and babies, that hope comes in the form of blood. That’s precisely why the Preeclampsia Foundation and the Foundation for America’s Blood Centers are collaborating on a gala benefit in NYC this November 12th – to create hope for every person who has ever felt the despair brought on by preeclampsia, to create hope for the millions of new moms and babies who will rely on lifesaving blood transfusions in the future. 

I am chairing this event and could sure use your help: auction items, sponsors, ticket sales, and attendance (email me! Even if you can’t attend, you can show your support with an online donation: Every bit adds up to more hope.

Can you imagine a world in which every new parent gets to hold their beloved baby and be swept away by an indescribable love? Not despair, just love. 

I can. 

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Lauren's book, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances (In The Telling Press, 2011), is the #1 Top Rated memoir on Kindle. Hardcover copies are available at, or signed copies can be ordered at Happy Reading!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Loving the Unlovable

“You have managed to fall in love with the unlovable,” my friend Roxy said to me several months back.  Fortunately, she wasn’t referring to my husband, Jeff. 

She was referring to Jack, our bow-legged, halitosis-infested, benign-tumor-covered, foggy-eyed, mostly deaf, nasty-to-strangers (and sometimes us) rescue Dachshund who joined the family two and a half years ago. We already had two lovely standard poodles at the time, so why would we add another dog to the pack, let alone one with a built-in Napoleonic complex?

Wine. Too much wine.  All Jeff’s fault.

We were lounging in France after a leisurely midday meal in 2005 when Clare popped the question.  “Dad? Can we get a Dachshund?” Lying in a recliner across the room, I waited to hear my husband’s logical explanation as to why another dog would be impractical.  Instead, I heard, “Sure, honey. Why not?”

Enter Jack. 

Jack, Disgusting in So Many Ways
We’d figured that adopting a puppy would put our carpet over its canine urine limit, so we sought out an older, calmer dog that was already housebroken.  Instead, we got the Danny DeVito of Dachshunds with broken bladder control. 

Like a Ziploc bag of urine that’s not fully sealed, Jack scooches across the carpet drizzling a little pee here and a little pee there.  His voice—channeled by all of his humans—is harsh and raspy, like that of a pack-a-day smoker and quart-a-night whiskey drinker.  His mouse-eating average is impressive: one every eight months (and those are only the ones we’ve personally witnessed). Jack is disgusting in so many ways, not the least of which, his propensity to mount our 60-pound poodle whenever Duke is having one of his seizures.  I know, right?

And yet, we have fallen in love with the unlovable. 

This past Saturday, we noticed our little Jack was unusually lethargic.  He didn’t try to steal Duke’s food at breakfast, barely ate his own. When we held him, he felt hot, feverish in fact. We’d suspected that Jack wasn’t long for this world within weeks of adopting him as his medications - and our vet bills - increased, and we’d often joked that getting Jack was not so much a rescue program as it was an extended hospice.

But having lost one of our poodles last month to food poisoning (she'd raided the countertop and ingested a small amount of the sweetener xylitol), we were not prepared to lose another of our pack so soon after.  Instead of taking the “wait and see” approach, we loaded Jack in the car and drove to the emergency vet clinic where we ran up a $400 tab only to learn that Jack’s blood panel reflected a remarkably healthy little guy.

Now feeling the pinch on our wallets, we declined the suggested x-rays and drove Jack back home.  We cancelled our evening plans and instead opted for a DVD and onion dip, and Jack curled up on my daughter’s lap the whole night.  At bedtime, Jeff slept with Jack in the guest room, and at 1 a.m. when Jack woke him with his whining, Jeff returned to the emergency clinic for those x-rays we’d cheaped out on earlier.

While waiting in the examination room for the test results, Jeff noticed Jack moving about the floor in obvious discomfort. Jack then squatted, farted, and shot out what Jeff would later describe as “the offending plug” followed by a small amount of goo.  The vet tech returned to show Jeff a set of “normal” x-ray images before giving him another $200 tab. 

By the next morning, Jack’s fever was gone and he was back to being his usual obnoxious self.  The diagnosis?  A bellyache.  A 24-hour, six-hundred-dollar bellyache.

What can I say? We're head over heels in love this little unlovable guy. 

Jack Larsen
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Download a PDF of the first 4 chapters of Lauren's memoir, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances, free.  Click here and go to the link below the "Buy the Book" button.  Zuzu's Petals is also available on Kindle and Nook.  Hardcover copies are available at, or signed copies can be ordered at Happy reading!