Student Chapter Spotlight

South Texas College of Law – Former Animal Law Society President Needs Your Help

The Animal Law Society (“ALS”) at South Texas College of Law is a Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapter founded in 2005. Since its creation, the ALS has become one of the more established and successful student groups on campus and has been named Student Organization of the Year for the past five years. Much of the ALS’s past and current success is attributable to the framework established by former president Lisa Howenstine, a 2009 graduate who was largely responsible for ALS’s first Student Organization of the Year award.

The ALS has a stated mission of “providing a forum for education, advocacy, and scholarship aimed at protecting the lives and advancing the interests of animals through the legal system.” To that end, the ALS hosts speakers each month to educate students on issues they may not have considered before in the field of animal law, along with encouraging students’ interest in animal law. Past speakers the ALS has presented include, among others, Ledy VanKavage of Best Friends Animal Society; Belinda Smith, Chief of the Animal Cruelty Section of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office; Officer Joel Caldwell, Commander of the Animal Services Unit of the Galveston Police Department; Tom Linney with ALDF; and Allie Keaton with My Service Dog, Inc.

Lisa and her officers inculcated the ALS as a genuine service organization with a strong ethic for giving, by providing services not only to the law school itself, but to the local community as well. Under her leadership, the groundwork was laid for the tens of thousands of dollars the ALS has raised for local charities and causes in the surrounding community including, but not limited to the Spay-Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP), Interfaith Ministry’s aniMeals on Wheels (providing pet food for home-bound senior citizens), the Houston Humane Society’s R.A.I.D.E.R. program (combating animal cruelty), and Caring Critters (a therapy dog organization). Additionally, Lisa worked with the Animal Law Sections of both the Houston Bar Association and the State Bar of Texas to assist in providing continuing legal education to area lawyers. The ALS continues this tradition.

Through her exemplary work as a leader and a visionary, Lisa has provided the template for future ALS presidents to continue the success the organization has enjoyed, as evidenced by ALS’ status as Student Organization of the Year for the last five years. In recognition of her laudable volunteerism in the areas of both human and animal health and wellbeing, serving simultaneously as the President of the ALS and Vice-President of the Health Law Society, South Texas College of Law awarded Lisa the Deans’ Citizenship Award for her significant contribution to the school and community. Throughout Lisa’s law school career she has truly embodied the ALS’s stated purpose and has been a role model for us all. Looking forward she hopes to continue to work to provide a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Lisa’s story is inspiring and invigorating in and of itself, but is made even more so by her current circumstances. Lisa was born with autoimmune hepatitis that later developed into end stage cirrhosis as a child. While in law school she was hospitalized several times and her disease forced her to maintain a stringent health regimen with frequent doctor visits. With that said, Lisa did not let her disease drag her down and she maintained a healthy attitude towards life. Unfortunately, though, in 2011 her condition worsened drastically and she developed debilitating ascites (fluid on the abdomen and swelling of the legs), hepatic encephalopathy (increasing confusion and short term memory loss), bleeding esophageal vertices that require repeated banding and clamping, extreme fatigue, pain, and depression. As best as her doctors can determine, one of the lesions on her liver has become cancerous, but due to the significant number of lesions throughout her liver, she is in danger of becoming ineligible for a donor list organ. Additionally, she is too ill to undergo chemoembolization, which would in the least buy her more time. Lisa’s transplant team has now become very concerned that she won’t get a liver in time to save her life, simply due to the complicated organ listing process.

This does not mean, however, that Lisa would not still benefit greatly from a liver transplant. In fact, a donor liver would save her life; and transplantation is her last chance of surviving her illness. At a recent transplant clinic appointment Lisa’s surgeon suggested that she begin seeking outside help by asking members of her community to consider designating Lisa as a donor organ recipient. The law allows a person, whether related or not, to identify a specific individual as a designated donor recipient so that in the unfortunate event they pass away, their liver could be used to save Lisa’s life. St. Luke’s Hospital in Houston, Texas will send their transplant team anywhere in the country to procure the organ for shipment to Houston, for transplantation. If upon inspection Lisa is not a match the UNOS Organ Placement specialists will place the organ with the next match according to the listing process, ensuring that the donation is put to good use.

Take Action

What Lisa asks of anyone reading this article is to consider choosing to become an organ donor and informing your loved ones of your decision to designate Lisa as your liver recipient in the unfortunate event of your passing. This process is not unlike a parent or sibling choosing to donate their liver in the event of their passing, except Lisa is making a larger group of people aware of her need. Please feel free to pass this story on to friends, family, and members of your community. If you have any questions or concerns you may contact Lisa Howenstine personally at 832.495.8433 or Ms. Demetrice Gray, Lisa’s Transplant Coordinator at St Luke’s Cooley Transplant Center in partnership with St. Luke’s Center for Liver Disease at 832.355.3787.

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