Rothenberg, Laura 1981-2003

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ROTHENBERG, Laura 1981-2003


Born 1981, in New York, NY; died of complications from a lung transplant, 2003, in New York, NY; daughter of Jon Rothenberg (a doctor) and Mary Rothenberg. Education: Attended Brown University.


Student and writer.


Bronze Award, Third Coast Audio Festival, 2002, for "My So-Called Lungs" on National Public Radio's (NPR) All Things Considered.


Breathing for a Living, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2003.

Also author of "My So-Called Lungs" (audio diary), edited and produced by Joe Richman, appearing on "Radio Diaries," part of NPR's All Things Considered, 2002.


Laura Rothenberg was born in New York City in 1981. She was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease which causes a mucus build-up in the victims' lungs and other organs, leading to serious respiratory and digestive problems and eventually death. She underwent surgery at three days old, and had countless other operations and hospital visits throughout her life. She tried to live as normal a life as possible, attending Brown University and living in the dorms, where she was exposed to possible illness. At nineteen she made the difficult decision to receive a double lung transplant to help deter the progression of the disease. In July 2002 she underwent the twelve hour operation and began the difficult recovery. Unfortunately her body ultimately rejected the organs, and Rothenberg suffered from bowel obstructions, pneumonia, and lymphoma. She died on March 22, 2003 at the age of twenty-two, due to chronic rejection of her lung transplant, complicated by infection.

Rothenberg's story was featured on National Public Radio's "Radio Diaries," a part of All Things Considered. She recorded over forty hours of tape for the audio diary which was then edited by producer Joe Richman into a twenty-two minute piece called "My So-Called Lungs." The "Radio Diaries" series started by Richman is intended to allow teenagers to document their own lives, often revealing more than they would in conversation with a reporter. Rothenberg's broadcast on August 5, 2002, generated unprecedented listener response and received more e-mail than producers could recall ever seeing.

Rothenberg was reluctant to record her thoughts and feelings when Richman first approached her about the project. She recorded material off and on for two years, including trips to the hospital, conversations with parents and friends, and her personal late-night thoughts. In November of 2002, "My So-Called Lungs" received the bronze award at the Third Coast International Audio Festival in Chicago. Mathew Flamm of Entertainment Weekly praised Rothenberg's "haunting, sometimes humorous voice."

After the reception of her audio diary, Hyperion approached Rothenberg about turning her experiences into a book. Rothenberg was an avid writer of poetry and agreed to the project, which chronicled her decision to receive a lung transplant and her consequential deterioration in health. What resulted is Breathing for a Living, the memoir of a young woman constantly aware of her own mortality. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews wrote, "This finely wrought chronicle about choosing to live to the full in the face of death admirably balances the author's fears and hopes." Emily Mead of Entertainment Weekly called the book "a remarkably clear-eyed (if jargon-ridden) account," but found it "fails to capture the intimacy and immediacy of her recorded voice." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly praised the memoir, commenting that in her "refus[al] to indulge in even a wisp of false hope or consolation, Rothenberg reminds us that there is a power in us that is greater than even the greatest suffering."



Entertainment Weekly, September 6, 2002, Mathew Flamm, "Between the Lines: The Inside Scoop on the Book World," p. 77; July 25, 2003, Emily Mead, review of Breathing for a Living, p. 76.

Home Care, September 1, 2002, "Listen and Learn."

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2003, review of Breathing for a Living, p. 738.

Publishers Weekly, May 12, 2003, Tracy Cochran, "A Far From Typical Life: Talks with Laura Rothenberg," p. 53; review of Breathing for a Living, p. 51.

U.S. News and World Report, August 5, 2002, Dan Gilgoff, "On the Radio: A Well-Examined Life Lived Unwell," p. 40.


Brown Daily Herald Online, (November 4, 2003), Lisa Mandle, "Laura Rothenberg, a Student Remembered."

George Street Journal, (November 4, 2003), Kristen Cole, "Student's Memoir, Breathing for a Living, Set for Summer Publication."

National Public Radio, (November 4, 2003), Joe Richman, "Laura Rothenberg Remembered."



Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2003, p. B16.*

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