Teen’s generous spirit lives on through brain donation
A guitar signed by U2 is now on permanent display at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor in honor of 15-year-old Laurence Carolin, who had a rare brain cancer. He donated his brain for research. / KATHLEEN GALLIGAN/Detroit Free Press
Neuro-oncologist Patricia Robertson and Lisa Carolin, Laurence Carolin’s mother, take in the U2-signed guitar. Carolin said her son “asked himself what he was going to do to make a difference and thought about organ donation.” Laurence had hoped to meet U2, but when that wasn’t possible, he asked the Make-A-Wish Foundation to donate $5,000 to the United Nations Foundation. / KATHLEEN GALLIGAN/Detroit Free Press
Laurence Carolin always knew he wanted to help people — whether raising money to feed the hungry or to buy mosquito nets to combat malaria in Africa.
So when the 15-year-old from Scio Township found out he was terminally ill with brain cancer, he wanted to make sure his life made a difference.
Laurence, who died in January 2010, decided to donate his brain to the University of Michigan in hopes of helping others who suffer from the rare disease.
On Wednesday, a Gibson Les Paul guitar signed by the band U2 was unveiled on the third floor of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor to honor Laurence — the first youth to donate his or her brain to the university’s research program.
“He asked himself what he was going to do to make a difference and thought about organ donation,” said Lisa Carolin, Laurence’s mother.
When Laurence found out he couldn’t donate his organs to other patients, he asked his mom whether the university could use them for research.
“He drew up the paperwork, and we both signed it,” Carolin said. “I was really proud and excited, and I thought it was brilliant because people can make so much of a difference with their bodies.”
Laurence’s journey wasn’t easy, his mother said.
Before his diagnosis, he experienced extreme depression and had suicidal thoughts, Carolin said.
“He was always exuberant, happy and outgoing,” Carolin said. “For two weeks, he had extreme depression and physical symptoms, including balance issues.”
He learned he had a rare form of brain cancer — glioblastoma multiforme — soon after seeing doctors in December 2007, Carolin said.
The experience, she said, was bittersweet.
“He was smiling and said, ‘I know what’s wrong with me,’ ” Carolin said. “I don’t think he looked at it as a terminal diagnosis.”
Laurence began raising money to fight global poverty shortly afterward.
He hoped to meet U2 through the Make-A-Wish Foundation but found out he couldn’t.
Instead, Laurence had the foundation make a $5,000 donation to the United Nations Foundation, which works with U2’s charitable organization, One.
The nonprofit group does not accept donations directly, Carolin said.
“He could have used the money solely for his gratification,” said Dr. Hugh Garton, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Mott. “But he wanted to raise community awareness.”
Laurence donated another $30,000 as part of his own fund-raising campaign.
“He was always of that mind-set,” Carolin said about her son’s desire to help others.
The band learned about Laurence’s efforts and signed his guitar after a concert in fall 2009 at Soldier Field in Chicago. It will remain on permanent display at Mott.
In addition, Laurence’s legacy continues at Dexter High School through a student branch of the One organization.
Students create posters and sell bracelets to raise awareness for poverty, malaria and HIV and AIDS in Africa.
Each year, students from Mill Creek Middle School in Dexter, where Laurence attended, also participate in an essay contest in hopes of winning a $500 scholarship that can be used to donate to charity, for college or both.
Contest participants are asked how they would make a difference in the world, and the essay that most represents Laurence is chosen.
Besides raising money for charity, Laurence, who was adopted from South Korea, also celebrated Airplane Day — known as the day an adopted child from overseas flies home with his or her new parent.
The day is celebrated like a birthday. For the last few years, Laurence’s family and friends have used the day to raise awareness for his causes.
Next year, the event will be held Feb. 2 at the Foggy Bottom Coffee House in Dexter.
“Laurence had the most amazing sense of humor through the whole thing, when it’s so easy to get sad,” said Donna Turner, a family friend.
“He taught me that bad things can happen every day, but you can choose if can’t overcome them or if you can overcome them and make a difference.”
Contact Melanie Scott Dorse