Slusser rewarded for stem cell research advocacy
After being through diabetes, Laura Slusser, 11, is going to bat for those who still have it.
Laura, a sixth-grader at Ecker Hill International Middle School, wants to bring national attention to the benefits of stem cell research.
Her advocacy work earned her the Nicholas Green Distinguished Student Award at a January conference for the Utah Association of Gifted Children.
The award recognizes students who are living their lives to the fullest. One student from each state in grades three through six is chosen for the award.
Park City School District Coordinator of Gifted and Talented Programs, Chris Fournier, presented the award to Laura.
"She’s just a kid that’s so full of heart," Fournier said. "If you get her talking about this, she’s on fire. She’s passionate about this."
Her advocacy started with her entry in the American Kidney Fund "Kid"ney Calendar for 2006. Contest entrants must be a transplant recipient and as one of the nation’s youngest recipients of a pancreas and kidney transplant, Slusser qualified to participate in the competition.
The drawing she did of her older sister Mary, 15, who is a sophomore at Park City High School, was chosen for the month of November in the 2006 calendar. As a competition winner, she earned a trip to Washington DC.
In preparation for the trip Laura sent a letter to President George W. Bush.
"I am writing to you because I would like it if you did not veto the bill for stem cell research. I am 11 years old and I have been a diabetic for three years, but have finally been cured by having a pancreas transplant," Laura wrote.
President Bush responded to her two months later, and while he did not address the issue of stem-cell research he did mention the government is "working to find better therapies and cures for diabetes and other diseases."
She said that many people need transplants but there simply aren’t enough donors, and research with stem cells could eliminate the need for transplants. Laura added that a benefit of stem cell grown kidneys is that anti-rejection medication isn’t needed.
She currently takes anti-rejection medication along with pills to help regulate her blood pressure.
"It’s a little weird taking pills instead of an insulin shot," Laura said adding that she much prefers the pills.
The Park Record reported on Laura last October shortly after her transplant. Both of her kidney’s failed while the family was on a cruise in the Bahamas during January 2005. Seven months later a kidney was available along with a pancreas and she underwent a transplant that cured her diabetes.
But she recognizes other people aren’t as lucky.
"There are so many other people out there who are just like me and they still need help," she said of her advocacy work.
While in nation’s capitol, Laura met with staff members from Utah Senator Orrin Hatch’s office and also Senator Bob Bennett. She was also interviewed by reporters from a CBS affiliate about her transplant and the importance of stem cell research.
As a transplant recipient Laura is eligible for a wish through the Make A Wish Foundation, one that she has thought about using to meet with President Bush to try an persuade him to allow stem cell research. She has also considered using her wish to meet with an influential celebrity who might be willing to help with her cause.
Laura might also start a letter- writing campaign to persuade policy makers to adopt a more favorable view of stem cell research.
Much of Laura’s experience with diabetes has taught her the importance of taking action.
"You can feel really sorry for someone, but it doesn’t get them what they need," she said.
Mary is supportive of the work her sister is doing and has found it inspirational. She has met other young people who are ill and admires their resilience.
"For them, even though all those terrible things happened to them, life goes on. That’s amazing to see in someone," she said.
With her family behind her, Laura will continue her work and she has a message for Park City, "I just want them to be aware that there are people who need help from stem cells," she said.
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Park City School District’s Board of Directors is getting closer to a price tag for its district-wide plan to increase class space and improve wraparound services at its schools, but no decision has been made on how much of that $140 million will be part of a bond election.