Obituary: Dream Shepherd, 16, motivation behind New York’s ‘Dream’s Law’

Nancy Cutler
 

| Rockland/Westchester Journal News

OSSINING – Dream Shepherd had fought through sickle cell anemia, received a lifesaving stem cell transplant from her mom, and then went on to help change state law so others wouldn’t have to face the challenges with insurance coverage that her family did. In 2015, when she was just 10 years old, Dream was named one of New York state’s “Women of Distinction.”

While Dream’s sickle cell treatment was considered successful, the Ossining High School student developed osteosarcoma. Dream Ioni Shepherd died on Aug. 21 at the age of 16.

Dream was about to start her senior year at Ossining High School.

In 2019, New York state passed Dream’s Law, which mandates that insurance companies guarantee safe and continued care for patients with a central venous line after being discharged from the hospital. The bill was quickly expanded to cover others whose medical conditions demanded more post-hospital care than their families could provide on their own.

Dream and her mother, Diana Lemon, were also helping shape another state bill to ensure parents of minor children with serious medical conditions were made aware of educational accommodations. The bill, which would be known as the Shepherd Patterson law, passed the Senate during the 2021 legislative session but didn’t make it to the Assembly floor for a vote.

“In just 16 years, Dream touched countless lives, and led directly to the passage of one state law, and the introduction of another,” said state Sen. Elijah Reichlin-Melnick, sponsor of the Shepherd Patterson law. “She will leave an amazing legacy and be remembered always by everyone who knew her.”

Dream had been active in the Girl Scouts since kindergarten. Through the Garden of Dreams Foundation, she sang at Radio City Music Hall and the Beacon Theater with the O.A.R. 2.0 chorus. At age 14, she was featured in a special about transplant recipients hosted by Robin Roberts of “Good Morning America.”

A GoFundMe collection has been started to help the family with funeral costs.

‘So much promise’

Dream’s Law, was motivated by the struggle that Dream’s family faced following her 2014 release from the hospital after a stem-cell transplant to treat her sickle cell.

The insurance company declined a request for nursing support to manage her central venous line, which goes into the patient’s heart. CVL issues can lead to deadly blood infections.

Dream’s mom didn’t have a medical background or resources to hire an aide on her own, and was left in charge of the CVL, an experience Lemon described as harrowing.

The bill was sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandra Galef and then-Sen. David Carlucci. When then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it, he expanded it to cover people with other medical conditions.

Galef, who has known Dream and Lemon for years, is also the Assembly sponsor of the proposed Shepherd-Patterson law.

Dream “really pulled the whole Ossining community together” as she battled through sickle cell and then cancer, the Ossining Democrat said. “It’s just very sad when you lose a young person with so much promise.”

Galef said that Dream, along with her mother, had impressed so many in Albany with their advocacy. 

“Their efforts have helped, and will help, New Yorkers,” Galef said. “And we’ll try to get this next legislation done in her memory.”

A homegoing service for Dream will be held in the near future.

Nancy Cutler writes about People & Policy. Click here for her latest stories. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyrockland