Va. mom inspires law ending organ transplant discrimination

By  | 

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va (WDBJ7) — Life has its ups and downs, even for an 18-month-old like Sawyer Shelor. And his mom Lauren will tell you, he's fought through it all.

"When I was 20 weeks pregnant, I went in for a routine anatomy scan, and we found out that day that Sawyer was going to have Down Syndrome, and that he was going to be born with a major heart defect," she said.

As a result, Sawyer had to have heart surgery just a few months after he was born. While Sawyer recovered, Lauren worried. What would happen if his heart didn't heal and her son needed a transplant?

Her research led her to a surprising answer.

"I just thought that wasn't fair," she said.

Sawyer could be discriminated against because of his Down Syndrome. According to the National Council on Disability, "organ transplant centers may categorically refuse to evaluate a patient with a disability as a candidate for transplant."

Such discrimination is theoretically prohibited by the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act. However, in practice, the NCD says discrimination can and does happen. As a result, they recommend each state adopt a law specifically forbidding discrimination against those with disabilities on organ transplant lists.

"So I was just like, let me find out how to make a law!" said Shelor.

That led her to State Senator Todd Pillion.

"I think discrimination for anyone with a disability should never be tolerated," said Pillion.

The Senator set to work on a bill, with 5th District Del. Israel O'Quinn putting together another version in the House. The bill would prohibit discrimination against people with physical or mental disabilities on the organ transplant list.

Lauren watched the bill move through committee, then out to the House and Senate floors, where she was in for another surprise.

"I just said to myself, maybe this world is going to be more accepting of him than I thought. I was celebrating wildly," she said. Not only did it pass in both the House and Senate, it passed unanimously.

"This bill proves to us, even in the most contentious of times, that we can still work together for the good of the commonwealth and get things accomplished for the betterment of everyone," said Sen. Pillion.

"That's what this bill represents: that every life is worth lifesaving measure," said Lauren.

The bill is now awaiting Governor Ralph Northam's signature. Officially, it's called HB 1273. Unofficially, it's called Sawyer's Law.

"He has been the biggest blessing of my life. He really has," said Lauren.