Local woman’s fight to save mother’s life may also change law

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A Plainfield woman will soon fly out west to donate a kidney to her birth mother.

But her life-saving act of courage is just half the story.

She also worked to see the state's living organ donor act will soon apply in Cook and every county in Illinois.

Karen Wardlaw is a Cook County juvenile probation officer. On October 19th she will be at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego donating a kidney to Joanne Lore-Becky, her birth mother.

Two surgical teams will handle to operations; One for her and one for Joanne. Recovery time could be lengthy, anywhere between 3 to 6 weeks.

Illinois state law has provided for 30 days paid sick leave as part of the Living Organ Donor Act for public employees.  It has been in place for almost 15 years and it’s a law that Secretary of State Jesse White helped champion after a stranger donated a kidney to his sister years ago and saved her life.

But when Karen asked her boss at the juvenile detention center for paid time off as part of the Living Donor Act for surgery she was told no and  “your request is unprecedented at juvenile detention and perhaps county wide".

Karen would have to use a combination of her personal sick time of 12 days, comp time and vacation time. And after that if she's still out, she wouldn't be paid.

“I am really, really disappointed,” Karen said.

WGN reached out to Karen's boss, Cook County chief judge Timothy Evans, who tells WGN he was not aware of Karen’s situation.
“First I thought it was a marvelously compassionate thing that Karen was willing to do for her birth mother,” Evans said.  "We consider her to be a state employee even though her assignment is working for the county … so she can be in California to help her mother to participate in the surgery scheduled for the 19th and I hope and pray the surgery will be successful."

Moving forward the next person may not have to work as hard to get the paid time off.  WGN also contacted Cook County Board Rresident Toni Preckwinkle.
“I am embarrassed frankly that we didn't have the policy already," she said.

So at Wednesday’s county board meeting commissioner Robert Steele will introduce a proposed resolution to have the county adopt the same living organ donor statue as the state.

"This is something that resonated with me,” Preckwinkle said. “I wanted to all of our employees that opportunity to make donations if they wished and not fear for their jobs."

"If  this can get put on the books so that the next person gets paid,” Karen said after learning of the board’s plans,  “That is one major financial and emotional stressor off the plate for that person."

Karen is set to out west on her life-saving mission October 15th.

Again the proposed ordinance will be introduced tomorrow. The first date the full board can vote on it is October 28th.