By: Casey J. Bortnick | YNN Rochester | Your News Now | Healthy Living
Organizations across the country are reminding people to give the gift of life. There are currently more than 100,000 people in the U.S. waiting for a life-saving transplant and 8,000 of them are in New York. That's why a local college student is trying to inspire people to become organ donors this holiday season.
"I just have to be involved," said Lauren Aggen, 20.
From designing and repairing costumes to performing on stage.
"I love it. I would do it every single day of my life if I could," Aggen said.
Aggen always seemed destined for the theater. She has a natural flare for the dramatics and she’s determined.
"I'm very driven," said Aggen.
It’s a quality she picked up from her parents in suburban Chicago.
"They taught me never use my medical condition as an excuse. And I think that's really important in life," Aggen said.
Aggen is a college student at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. She uses hearing aids and sign language to help her communicate. Aggen is immune compromised and takes 32 pills a day.
"If I don't take the medicine, my body will know that my heart is not my heart. And it will go into rejection and then I will die," said Aggen.
Soon after Aggen was born, doctors at a Chicago hospital discovered something was wrong. A valve in her heart was too small to pump blood through her body.
"And I only had three days to live, unless I got a heart transplant. And three days would be Christmas," Aggen recalled.
Seven days passed and Aggen was about to be taken off the transplant list. Then a phone call from Austin, Texas changed her life. A baby boy there had died from sudden infant death syndrome. His heart was a perfect match.
"When the put it in, usually you have to stimulate it, start the heart. But it just beat on its own," said Aggen.
Aggen survived, but the next 20 years of her life have been filled with challenges. The drugs she took while waiting for a transplant caused her to lose her hearing. She even went into a brief coma at the age of six.
"It was just one thing after another," she said.
Despite the obstacles, Aggen excelled, graduating high school with high honors.
"I think part of it is my donor family. Even though I don't know who they are, they've inspired me to want to do the best I can do," said Aggen.
In an effort to say thank you and promote organ donation, Aggen wrote a book. Entitled "Austin's Gift," it chronicles her life and pays tribute to the baby boy and his family who gave the ultimate Christmas gift. Aggen has been unable to track them down.
"And, you know, they don't have to meet me. But I just want them to know that because of them I'm here. And I'm very grateful. And I'm trying to do things to express my gratitude to them," Aggen said.
It's a gift of life Aggen doesn't plan on wasting. A gift she hopes to share with others.
"That's my gift of telling people my story. That's my gift," said Aggen.
Aggen actually started writing her book when she was just 13. The Make-A-Wish Foundation helped her publish it. It was be released December 20th, two days before Aggen’s 21st birthday.