Lauren Dayan likes to say, “I’m just like all mothers.” But it’s hard to believe! A graduate of Hillel Yeshiva, Lauren married shortly after her 18th birthday.  A “normal life” followed. After three sons, Lauren was ecstatic to discover that she was expecting a girl.  But when Renee was born, life took a turn. Lauren held Renee for a few minutes, then she was whisked away to the NICU. Renee’s journey with challenges still continues today. After shuttling from hospital to hospital, Renee ended up in Boston Children’s Hospital where she remained for almost a year. Lauren would spend all week with Renee and then fly home for weekends to be with the rest of her family.  Lauren says that she could not have gotten through everything without their love and support. When Renee came home, Lauren recalls, “I could accept our ‘new normal’ or say, ‘Why me?’ Everyone has challenges – and this was ours.”  Community volunteers stepped up to help. Lauren says, “My sons (now 20, 22, and 24) are amazing. They have helped shape my life. Their compassion, love, and support for their sister and Mommy helped me to continue to be the mother that I am.”

When Renee was preschool age, Lauren contacted Magen David, but warned them, “She isn’t like a normal kid.” Rabbi Hilsenrath responded, “What’s normal?!” and Renee was accepted. With Terri Mizrahi’s leadership, Renee came to school with a nurse and received the special services she required. With Renee at school, Lauren determined to return to school herself. She wanted to help others and decided to pursue a career in occupational therapy. She earned her associate degree at Kingsborough Community College, then transferred to Brooklyn College.

At age 11, Renee transferred to the Shefa School, a Jewish community day school that specializes in special education. At Shefa, Renee quickly became part of the school family. One day, the psychologist called and said, “Renee’s not acting right.” But by the time Renee got home, she seemed her usual self. That weekend, as she was studying for finals, Lauren noticed Renee began slurring her words and complained of numbness in her arm. Having just taken a course in stroke and aphasia, Lauren says, “I knew something was going on. A round of hospital visits and misdiagnoses began.  The family pediatrician said that Renee was having transient strokes, where she would “space out” and, by the time they got to the hospital, be back to herself.  Renee’s parents were told that these episodes were just psychological and behavioral issues. Not convinced, the Dayan’s returned to Boston Children’s Hospital, to discover that Renee was having strokes and needed brain surgery, which would be scheduled in a few months. In the meantime, Renee continued to go to school, with Lauren at her side.

Lauren reminisces, “We plan and Gd laughs.” Renee had a massive stroke, which led to yet another year in the hospital. Before Renee’s homecoming, the house was modified to meet her needs. Nurses, therapists, family members, and volunteers were engaged to help. With Lauren coordinating the entire picture, life became normal.  Renee was bussed to school at Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Westchester County, and Lauren returned to college.  Then Renee caught the flu and almost died.  Lauren got permission to learn remotely – before COVID! This continued when the pandemic struck, and all colleges transitioned to distance learning. Lauren achieved her degree with the high honor of summa cum laude.

At this point, Lauren’s future focus changed. Inspired by Renee’s doctors, therapists, and caregivers, Lauren explored how she could help other parents who experience sudden trauma. Her experiences taught her that she could be a source of compassion and support. Lauren started a group at Blythedale for parents “who I met in the hallway whose lives were turned upside down.” Lauren felt they needed to hear from others that even though things would be different, they would be okay.  “Perfect,” she says, “is boring.” COVID complicated matters. For three months, Renee could not leave the hospital, and family could not visit.  Now, Renee goes home for Shabbat through Sunday to be with her family.

Lauren set her sights on the Social Work program at Columbia University. She reached out to PROPEL for help with the application process. Working with the PropelED team, Lauren was accepted for the next cohort. She will begin her graduate studies in September 2021. Lauren’s immediate goal is to get Renee home with the care that she needs. Lauren knows that it will be a challenge to be a wife, mother, caregiver, and graduate student. But, she says, “I feel that Hashem helped me through all these hurdles – this is just another one.”

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