Hochul signs 'Elizabeth's Law,' named for Auburn native's daughter, to raise CMV awareness

November 29, 2022

Originally published in Auburn Citizen on November 29, 2022.

Jim and Lisa Saunders' advocacy to raise awareness about congenital cytomegalovirus has been recognized by Gov. Kathy Hochul. 

Hochul signed legislation requiring child care providers to receive information about the risks of congenital cytomegalovirus, or CMV, and how the infection can be prevented. It also requires the state Department of Health to relay informational materials about CMV to OB-GYNs, who will share those details with pregnant patients at their first visit. 

The bill was sponsored by state Sen. John Mannion and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal. It is named in honor of Jim and Lisa Saunders' daughter, Elizabeth, who died after a seizure in 2006. Elizabeth Saunders had CMV that led to several health problems, including hearing and vision difficulties, cerebral palsy and seizures. 

"Elizabeth's Law is a fitting tribute to a young girl and her family that will help prevent similar tragedies in the future," Mannion, D-Geddes, said. "The state of New York will now require that child care providers have the information and training they need to be aware of the dangers of congenital cytomegalovirus infection." 

Lisa Saunders told The Citizen last year that she believes she passed the virus to her daughter. She thinks she contracted it while working in child care — she ran a day care at her home and volunteered at a church nursery. 

CMV is a common virus, according to the Mayo Clinic. Healthy people may not know they have it. But it can pose problems for those with weakened immune systems and babies. Babies with congenital CMV can develop problems over time, such as hearing loss or developmental delays. Seizures are among the symptoms of CMV in children. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recognizes CMV as a workplace hazard and that child care workers are at a greater risk of infection. Estimates indicate that as many as 70% of child care employees are infected with CMV. 

In a statement, Lisa Saunders thanked Mannion and Rosenthal for listening to her and other families affected by CMV. 

"All we want is to prevent this viral cause of brain damage and hearing and vision loss from happening to other newborns," she said. "As a result of this new law, women will learn the simple precautions to take to protect their pregnancies from cytomegalovirus. This is of special importance to women who have or care for toddlers during their pregnancies." 

Jim and Lisa Saunders live in Baldwinsville and began walking the Erie Canalway Trail to raise CMV awareness. Jim Saunders is an Auburn native.