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Husband successfully pushes for new law 4 years after wife's sudden death

Laura Levis died suddenly in 2016 after she unsuccessfully tried to enter CHA Somerville Hospital in Massachusetts and came up against a locked door.
/ Source: TODAY

When Laura Levis walked herself to the emergency room at CHA Somerville Hospital in Massachusetts on an early September morning in 2016, she came up against a locked door. She dialed 911 on her cellphone outside the hospital but her call did not get her help in time and she died in an event her husband, journalist Peter DeMarco, describes as a preventable one.

There was no visible signage to indicate the ER entrance or even a panic button by the locked door where Levis went to. If there had been, she might have survived the asthma attack she was experiencing. On Jan. 5, just over four years after Levis' death, "Laura's Law" was passed in Massachusetts, new legislation that will set standards for signage and lighting and improve ER access in the state.

For DeMarco, the victory is a big and bittersweet one and shows that his beloved wife did not die in vain.

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"Allow Laura's death to save others," DeMarco wrote in a plea on Instagram on Jan. 3 as "Laura's Law" was in danger of being scrapped. "We have just 48 hrs to pass 'Laura's Law' making hospital ER entrances easier to find & navigate."

DeMarco wrote about his wife's story in 2018 in an article titled "Losing Laura" for the Boston Globe's magazine. He detailed how the emergency system failed her at every turn, costing his young wife her life just steps away from help.

"Our entire emergency response system failed her," DeMarco told NBC News, explaining how Levis had walked herself to the hospital but could not get in and was not found until it was too late.

"She was an amazing person and my best friend," DeMarco wrote on Instagram. "I miss her."

DeMarco worked steadily for the past two years and gained the support of Rep. Christine Barber and Sen. Pat Jehlen who sponsored "Laura's Law." With days left before the end of the legislative session, DeMarco knew that if he didn't make some noise, there was a good chance that the bill would die in committee. He called on everyone he knew to try to bring the bill to the top of the pile.

DeMarco wrote in an article for Boston radio station WBUR that he called on "a fierce force of retired middle-school teachers, hardware helpers at the Saugus Lowe's, members of an over-40 men's baseball league, more than 100 people with asthma, a homeschooling cooperative from Western Mass., and yes, even a Duck Boat conductor or two," to make phone calls and send emails.

The bill passed unanimously and on Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker signed "Laura's Law" in a ceremony. The new law will set standards for signage, lighting, security monitoring and panic buttons outside locked hospital doors. Massachusetts hospitals will need to start following the standards six months to a year after the COVID-19 state of emergency ends.

On his journey to enact change, DeMarco said that he hoped other people with asthma can learn from his wife's mistake and ask for help if they are experiencing an attack. In 2019, DeMarco told TODAY that he thought Laura would want him to share her story, even if it was an example of what not to do. He said that because she had handled her asthma attacks in the past, and because she prided herself on working out — lifting weight, hiking and spinning — she probably thought she didn't need help.

"I've come to realize that it's essential people with asthma tell someone they are having an attack and seek help," he said. "Having someone with you during an attack to calm you can slow the attack and make a huge difference."

DeMarco said at the Massachusetts State House on Friday. "It took nearly two years to get here. I wasn't sure we'd even reach this day."

He told NBC News after the bill passed, "Now we have a law called 'Laura's Law' and that's going to save a lot of people.

"You can be angry, you can be bitter at the world or you can try to make some good," he added, overcome with emotion. "I didn't want to be mad at the world forever. And I don't think Laura would have wanted me to be, either."