It began with an unexpected phone call in the middle of the night. Fast asleep, Gail Schenbaum Lawton, former teacher and Co-founder of Umergency, answered in a semi-conscious daze. On the other end of the line, her daughter Alex, a freshman in college, was calling from an ambulance on her way to the hospital. "Mom, there's been an accident. I'm okay....but it's really bad."

The emergency medical technician then introduced himself, and said something terrifying:

"I'm calling with a partial amputation. We're pulling into emergency; we'll call you back."

Suddenly, the line went dead. Shaken, Gail jolted from her bed, feeling panicked. Alex, who was attending college out of state, was living in the college dorm. Unfamiliar with the area, Gail's mind was swirling with questions. Will she be OK? What happened? Who should she call? As Gail grabbed her phone to locate local emergency resources and contacts, she realized that she had nothing - not even her daughter's Resident Advisor or roommate.

When Gail finally got permission to speak with medical staff, she learned that although not life-threatening, Alex's condition was very serious. Alex's hand had been caught in a heavy door as it was being shut, nearly severing her thumb. The next few hours would be critical.

The subsequent surgery to reattach Alex's thumb was a success, and in time she regained full use. But for Gail, the entire experience weighed on her heavily. She could not forget the feelings of helplessness she experienced that night. Gail knew she wanted to do something so that other college parents wouldn't go through the same harrowing experience.

It was that kind of personal experience that had led Gail in previous years to create the award winning In One Instant program. Within a two-year period, Gail's teenage children attended three funerals, each for a friend who died in alcohol, distracted or reckless driving collisions. With the community devastated, Gail created In One Instant, a nationally-recognized high school safe driving program - by teens for teens - that empowers youth to make smart choices and save lives. The program is currently implemented in 40 states throughout the country.

With her experience in helping high school students and their parents feel safer in their everyday lives, Gail knew she could make a positive impact on the lives of college families.

She called her brother Barry with an idea to create an emergency app, providing college students and their families the necessary resources and tools to navigate through any emergency. Together, they were shocked to learn that nearly 4.5 million college-aged young adults, a rate of nearly one out of every four, visit the emergency room each year. Over the next two + years, Barry and Gail would put together a team of developers and tech entrepreneurs to create the mobile app, Umergency.

It's great to see the current wave of conscious entrepreneurs creating purpose driven startups and apps. And rather than trying to create the next Angry Birds and milk the public of every dollar they have, instead, they are saving lives and solving big world problems.

Published on: Aug 9, 2017