Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Stupid Idea

In 2001, on my daughter’s first birthday, I launched my inaugural grassroots fundraiser for America’s Blood Centers by mailing more than 600 letters to friends, family members, and former colleagues. In it, I shared the story of how hundreds of volunteer blood donors saved my life following Clare’s birth, and I asked everyone to sponsor me in the upcoming New York City marathon by giving blood or money, both if they were so inclined. The response was immediate and overwhelming, and soon my mailbox filled with checks and words of encouragement.

And then I received the reply form from a bestselling biology textbook author with whom I’d worked during my publishing career. This is a stupid idea, she wrote next to my bold declaration to run a marathon. Then she proceeded to list all the physiological reasons why it was too soon after my medical ordeal to put my body through such a challenge. I promptly dismissed her concerns and continued training for race day.

Eight months later, I would learn just how right she had been in her assessment of my stupidity. Less than seven miles into the 26.2-mile race, the impact of the street surface on my feet was crippling to my body, which had never completely recovered from the beating it took during my near-fatal illness. By mile 12, I allowed myself to walk – something I’d never done in any of my previous marathons. Somewhere around mile 19, I got a wicked charley horse and limped to the side of the road. I lay on my back on the cool sidewalk and watched the sun set behind the trees above, as my husband massaged my aching feet and cramped calves.

“Should we quit?” Jeff asked, though I knew that what he really wanted to say was We should quit. (I feel it is only fair to state that Jeff categorically hates running; he only ran that marathon with me to ensure my safety should something go wrong.)

“I’ve never dropped out of a race,” I said to Jeff after a good 15-minute rest. “And I’m not about to start today.” I laced up my running shoes, allowed Jeff to hoist me to standing, and limped back out onto the racecourse.

Finishing place in the marathon: 22,756--woo hoo!
By the time I shuffled across the finish line, the sky was pitch black, the bleachers in Central Park had been disassembled and stacked for removal, and most of the fans and race volunteers had departed. My body was broken, my legs could barely support me, and everything hurt.

But, I thought to myself, I did it! I finished what I started!

And then, the prophetic words of my textbook-author friend began to manifest themselves. My right shoulder locked up and remains “frozen” a decade later, my right arm unable to reach above shoulder height. One by one, the rest of my joints – ankles, knees, elbows, my other shoulder – began to deteriorate over the ensuing years. Arthritis set in, surgery was performed, pain medications prescribed, joint replacements discussed.

So okay, I’m finally willing to admit it: Running that marathon was a stupid idea. And once in the race, yes, I should’ve dropped out when it was clear my body was not doing well. With the benefit of hindsight, age, and arthritis, I now understand that not all races are meant to be finished. Sometimes, for the sake of our long-term health, the best course of action is to quit.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun while it lasted. 

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Lauren's book, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances (In The Telling Press, 2011), was the #1 Top Rated memoir on Kindle for 7 straight months. Hardcover copies are available at, or signed copies can be ordered at Happy Reading!

Friday, January 13, 2012


I’m not in the habit of phoning men I don’t know and inviting them out for drinks, but after reading about Dave Claflin in the local paper years ago, I did just that. “You don’t know me,” I said to Dave, “but we need to have a margarita, dude.”

We met at a Mexican restaurant here in Boulder, where we swapped details about our respective needs for massive blood transfusions.  I’d heard quite a few blood recipient stories at that point in my advocacy work, but Dave’s story blew my mind. 

Just as he was about to walk his five-year-old triplet daughters to kindergarten one morning, Dave felt a sudden wave of nausea, which he assumed was food poisoning.  When the feeling didn’t pass after a few days, he assumed it was the flu.  New to Boulder, Dave hadn’t yet secured a family doctor, so when his symptoms persisted for six days straight he went to the hospital’s emergency room hoping to get some medication to treat his “flu.”

Following protocol, the ER professionals made Dave don one of those rather homely hospital gowns and ran him through a number of tests. While waiting for each of the test results, Dave began to feel more and more anxious about pulling precious resources away from people who were “really sick.” The ER was busy that day and Dave decided to leave so that others could get the care they needed. He began to dress himself, but—fortunately—someone had inadvertently taken his pants from the room. And so, he stayed. 
The next time a doctor entered his room, it was with a greater sense of urgency and concern.  What Dave thought to be the flu was actually his aorta—yeah, that fairly important main artery of the body—in the process of tearing! Suddenly, things kicked into high gear as Dave was wheeled into a 16-hour emergency open-heart surgery—the first of four that Dave would undergo during the next three days. The aortic tear was so large, Dave’s blood vessels leaked fluid into his chest cavity, causing his heart to stop numerous times. Needless to say, massive amounts of blood were transfused throughout—125 pints to be exact.

If you met Dave today, you’d look at this athletic 40-something guy, who still cycles and rock climbs, and you’d say one word: remarkable.  It’s remarkable that this man is still alive, and yes—like many of us “second chancers”—out there spreading the word about blood donation. It’s remarkable that Dave got to the hospital in time. It’s remarkable that his pants mysteriously disappeared, preventing him from walking to his likely death in the hospital parking lot or on his drive back home. It’s remarkable that medical advancements are such that an aortic aneurysm wasn’t a death sentence. It’s remarkable that there are people who care enough about others that they’ll take the time (and the needle) to—literally—give a bit of themselves away.

But as someone whose father bled to death when she was in kindergarten, the most remarkable thing to me about Dave’s story is this: because of the collective efforts of every person involved in the blood donation and transfusion process, there are three little girls—now feisty teenagers—who know what it’s like to grow up with their dad. Soccer games, back-to-school nights, first dates.


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Lauren's book, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances (In The Telling Press, 2011), was the #1 Top Rated memoir on Kindle for 7 straight months. Hardcover copies are available at, or signed copies can be ordered at Happy Reading!