Parents Who Change the World

Lasting Legacies

For many parents, advocating for laws that protect children is a passionate act of remembering. "To have your child erased from earth is horrifying," says Long Island, New York, mother Adriann Raschdorf-Nelson, whose 16-month-old son, Alec, was killed when a beloved elderly relative backed over him because of zero rearview visibility in an SUV. Together with her husband, Bill Nelson, they successfully lobbied for Alec's Law, which mandates that all Long Island residents who buy or lease a car receive a brochure with information about the rear blind zone and preventing accidental backovers.

It took two years to pass the local legislation, but pushing through a law at the federal level often takes much longer. "The range is a couple of years to never—never being the most common," says Janette Fennell, the president and founder of, a nonprofit that advocates for improved car safety. Yet even knowing that there's little chance of a simple success, parents press on.

The Nelsons also met with then Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and testified in Washington, D.C., in support of federal legislation now passed, that makes it impossible to put a car into gear without a foot on the brake and for all vehicles manufactured starting in 2014 to be equipped with a rearview camera. "Instead of blaming somebody, we looked for opportunities to make a difference with Alec's life," says Bill Nelson. "It's emotional and it brings us back to where we were when Alec died, but it helps us to help others."

Kim and Ken Hansen, of West Seneca, New York, understand intimately what motivates the Nelsons to keep pushing for improved safety laws. The couple lost their 16-year-old daughter and only child, Amanda, when she was poisoned by a carbon-monoxide leak at a sleepover. "A week after she passed away it hit me that there was something I had to do so that it wouldn't happen to another family," said Ken. "I knew that I needed to get carbon-monoxide detectors in homes." Today, Amanda's Law requires most houses and apartments in New York State to have working detectors.

If Amanda had lived, the Hansens would be spending their weekends looking at colleges. Instead, they devote their free time to educating people about carbon-monoxide poisoning and distributing CO detectors at places such as The Home Depot and fire stations. "The pain is always there, but every time we speak that's one more family Amanda is protecting," says Ken, his voice breaking. "That's what it's all about for us."

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