32 Candles

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During the silent moment prior to blowing out my birthday candles, I always think of the reality that I was not expected to see my 19th birthday. Also, that it is a true miracle I have turned 32 years old today. Thirty-two! Wow! It is hard to process all I have endured and how lucky I am for the second chance at life I’ve been given.

Two years ago, in celebration of my 30th birthday, I wrote a blog post that reflected on all I have learned as a PKD survivor. Please see Three Decades of Living and Learning to read the 30 lessons/thoughts of what my health hurdles have taught me. Last year’s birthday was a tough one. I was at my parents’ home in Pennsylvania recovering from two back surgeries. It wound up being a 9-week stay until I was well enough to fly home to California. Noah and I celebrated my 31st birthday via Skype. Today, I am thankful to be home and able to celebrate my 32nd birthday with Noah in person.

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I am living today because of the medical “army” and loving “soldiers” that have fought and stood by my side. In honor of this special day and reaching 12.5 years post-transplant, I thought it would be fun to share 32 things I have seen, accomplished and experiences I have been afforded over the past 12.5 years thanks to my kidney donor, Sally Robertson. There are endless things to share, but here are the first 32 that popped into my mind and in no particular order:

  • BadlandsHiked in the Badlands National Park in South Dakota.
  • Became an avid public speaker, sharing my story at more than 80 events across North America.
  • Drove to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado.
  • Nominated as the 2005 Davita Kidney Idol.
  • Walked on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
  • My biography, My Favorite American, was published and received the first ever Helene Kenigsberg Award for Excellence in Public Awareness of Polycystic Kidney Disease from the PKD Foundation of Canada.
  • Toured the Santa Cruz, California Monarch Butterfly Groves.
  • Saw two of the three Old Faithful Geysers in the world, one in California and the other in Yellowstone National Park.
  • I was able to work full-time for 10 years.
  • Explored and saw wildlife, such as baby bison, elk, moose, a bald eagle and a wolf, in Yellowstone National Park.
  • Became a Donate Life Ambassador.
  • Mt RushmoreSaw Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota.
  • Recipient of the 2009 Susan P. Byrnes Health Education Center, Celebration of Life Award.
  • Hiked at the Grand Teton National Park.
  • Became an advocate for PKD: Chapter and Walk Coordinator.
  • Walked around Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming.
  • Married my husband, Noah, at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park.
  • Became a blog writer – PKD Will Not Beat Me.
  • Saw the largest tree by volume on earth at Sequoia National Park.
  • Winner of the Astellas “Ride of a Lifetime” Contest, giving me the opportunity to be a float rider on the Donate Life Float in the 2011 Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade.
  • Explored Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
  • Received the 2012 Outstanding Media Ambassador award from Sierra Donor Services.
  • Walked through Garden of the Gods in Colorado.
  • Became a national spokesperson for University Kidney Research Organization (UKRO).
  • Rode in a submarine; zip-lined; watched the sunrise on the top of a volcano at Haleakala National Park; and snorkeled in Maui, Hawaii.
  • Selected as one of Donate Life’s, 12 Inspiring Women of 20 Million in 2012 Campaign.
  • Hiked to the top of Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park.
  • Parasailed above Lake Tahoe, Nevada/California.
  • Traveled with my husband, Noah, on a month-long cross-country move from Pennsylvania to California.
  • Last picture riding across San Fran bridgeGraduate of the Dale Carnegie, Effective Communications and Human Relations Course & High Impact Presentation Course. Recipient of the following Dale Carnegie Course Awards: Outstanding Performance, Human Relations, Human Relations Champion, and Highest Award for Achievement.
  • Hiked to the top of Maggies Peaks in Lake Tahoe, California.
  • Rode a bicycle across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California in celebration of my 28th birthday.

The past 12.5 years have been the most extraordinary of my life. My life is better post-transplant, because I am healthy enough to finally live as life should be lived – to its fullest with every cell of my being.

31 - 2

“Health is not valued until sickness comes.”
–Thomas Fuller

Every year when I blow out my birthday candles, one wish is constant: I wish for good health. So, as I begin my 32nd year of life, I wish for good health and cheers to the next 32.

What do you wish for on your birthday?



  1. Julia Adams

    Cheers to an amazing woman and a life well lived! Happy Birthday, Valen!! May you enjoy many more and continue to inspire us with your attitude, gratitude and grace. Thank you! XO

    • Valen Keefer

      Thank you so much for your beautiful and heartfelt birthday wishes Julia! I look forward to seeing you soon! XO

  2. Rosemarie bartus

    Wishing you a very special belated birthday. You are amazing!!

    • Valen Keefer

      Thank you very much Rosemarie!

  3. Tim McCormack

    Happy Happy Birthday Valen and congratulations on 12.5. I myself am a transplant recipient going on 8 years now. GOD BLESS MY WIFE!!. There is not a day goes by that I don’t think about what she has done for me and how different life would have been without her. God bless her, Sally Robertson and all the other living donors out there.

    • Valen Keefer

      Thank you very much Tim! Congratulations on 8 years! I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments. There are angels among us and you married one! 🙂 Wishing you continued great health!

  4. Garrett Dykes

    I’m a couple of months from my 32nd birthday too. I’ve known of my disease for 16 years now and I’m almost ready for dialysis. I’m in the process of finding a match for transplant from my friends that are volunteering to give me a kidney.

    I’m curious about you needing a transplant at the age of 20. Did your kidney function go under 10% and need a transplant asap or did you have it to get it out of the way since you had a donor?

    Your story makes me hopeful that ill get to do similar great things like you once I get a donor kidney.

    • Valen Keefer

      I am thankful to hear that you have friends stepping forward to donate.

      My kidneys were functioning 60% when they removed both of them. The cysts on my kidneys would not stop bleeding and they had no other choice but to remove them. I was put on daily dialysis for awhile due to all of the toxins in my body. I was too sick to be placed on the transplant waiting list. After seven months on dialysis, I was lucky to receive a kidney from a friend.

      Hold on to that hope, keep a positive spirit, remain determined and you will do great things! 🙂

      • garrett dykes

        Thank you for your kind words. It comforts me to know that life improves after a transplant. In your case it greatly improved.

        I have been dating a girl for a year and was afraid to tell her until 2 months of dating due to others leaving me over it. She’s my biggest supporter in this fight.

        I have so many questions but I’ll just ask one more. Did you notice any change in your overall well being after your transplant? Did you feel better after your transplant?

        • Valen Keefer

          I am so happy that you opened up to your girlfriend and that she is your biggest supporter. That is huge!

          I felt like a new person after my transplant. It is what my body needed. I was battling other health issues and was very ill when I was on dialysis. Transplant restored my health. As soon as I woke up from my surgery, I wanted to walk and was energized. It has allowed me to lead a fulfilling life and not be tethered to a machine. I take 20 pills a day, make sure to be my own best advocate, take the best care of myself and hope for many more years with this gift of life. It is a miracle, life-changing and life-affirming.

          I hope you will be receiving the gift of life soon!

  5. Todd Keefer

    Well actually you’re beginning your 33rd year, but that’s just a technicality. I hope you’re able to keep doing such cool things for many, many, many more years and that every birthday is a happy one!

    • Valen Keefer

      I laughed when I read your first sentence, because your son said the same thing to me. Like father, like son! Thank you for the wonderful birthday wishes! I hope you are feeling well and recovery is going as smooth as possible.

  6. Ashish Thakur

    I’ve been reading your posts since a long while now. You are a tough fighter and have given others hope and strength fight. I hope god gives you many more happy and healthy years to live.

    • Valen Keefer

      Thank you for your kind sentiments and for reading my blog. I appreciate your encouraging words of support. Wishing you all the best!

  7. Ashish Thakur

    I’ve been reading your posts since a long while now. You are a tough fighter and have given others hope and strength to fight. I hope god gives you many more happy and healthy years to live.

  8. James (Kidney Challenge)

    Touching article — thank you for sharing! We’d love to have the opportunity to do a Skype interview with you on our page, Facebook/KidneyChallenge. We have 10k fans and are growing quickly. We occasionally conduct Skype interviews with people who have a unique, inspiring perspective on kidney-related matters. I think your story would really resonate and would help make a difference! If you’re interested, please message us on our FB page or email me directly at James@KidneyChallenge.org.

    I really think you could be an inspiration to our followers. Hope to hear from you, and thanks for getting out such a positive message on the subject!

    Take care!

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi James,
      I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed this blog post and for your interest in doing a skype interview. I’ll send you an email to get more information on this opportunity. Thanks so much!


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