“Mrs. Keefer, are you ready?” I rose from my seat with a huge smile on my face and said, “Yes, I sure am!” I followed the event coordinator backstage at the ballroom in the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA.
My heart was beating with excitement as I stood backstage peering around the red curtain. The room was filled with more than 400 influential individuals such as; researchers, scientists, patients with kidney disease accompanied by their families, talent agents, doctors, and many other amazing attendees. We were all there to celebrate the establishment of the University of South California / UKRO Kidney Research Center.
University Kidney Research Center asked me to join their organization as a national spokesperson in 2010. Thanks to UKRO, I had the opportunity to share the stage at their December 12, 2012 major fundraiser, along with extraordinary and accomplished individuals. As I heard Master of Ceremonies Phillip Palmer introduce me, I said out loud, “Here we go!” I walked onto the stage to the podium. With bright lights shining, I looked out at the audience and proudly said …
Every step we have taken, every breath, every decision, moments filled with laughter, heart-wrenching tears, times we were on cloud nine, when we were fearful of the unknown, the times we never lost hope. These snippets of our lives, while not always fully understood, can have a profound affect on our lives. Those moments have led us all to the very same room this evening, for a vital cause.
As one of the 26 million people in the US suffering from chronic kidney disease, I am proud to represent the kidney community on this special evening. I was diagnosed with the chronic kidney disease, polycystic kidney disease (PKD) when I was 10 years old. PKD is one of the most common life threatening genetic diseases in the world. It has had a devastating impact on the lives of everyone on my mother’s side of the family. The oldest family member to survive this disease is my now 56-year-old mom. I never met my grandmother who passed from PKD. My aunt died from it when I was 15. My brother lives with PKD as does his 11-year-old son. The only treatment is dialysis or transplantation. There is no cure.
I am the youngest in my family to experience the severe side effects of PKD. Kidney disease limited me from living a normal childhood. I was in and out of the hospital many times with excruciating kidney pain caused by cyst bleeds. Two months into college, I had my worst cyst bleed, complicated by pancreatitis, which ultimately led to the demise of my kidneys resulting in a bilateral nephrectomy. After a year in the hospital, 8 months on dialysis and more than 70 blood transfusions, I needed a kidney transplant to survive. Tonight marks 10 years and 4 months since my health was restored when I was given the priceless gift of a new kidney from a living donor: a gift that keeps on giving. It is truly the gift of life.
Through all this adversity, there was one thing that was not taken from me, and that was hope. Tonight is a very hopeful evening for those suffering from chronic kidney disease.
Lives will change thanks to the establishment the USC/UKRO Kidney Research Center at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. I want to thank and commend the dedication and commitment of everyone in this room who will help to make this the pre-eminent kidney research center in the western United States. I look at this as not only a kidney research center, but also a center of hope.
My hope is that others won’t have to suffer from kidney disease like my family and I have, where dialysis and transplantation are the only treatment options. My dream is to live to see the day that treatments and cures are found for kidney diseases.
I am alive today thanks to advancements in modern medicine. I believe this research center will help turn the seemingly impossible into the possible. The lives of kidney patients will improve dramatically with every dollar raised; with each grant funded; and with all the research that will be conducted.
It is said that every journey begins with the smallest step; this step by USC/UKRO is a giant leap that is certain to lead toward a cure for kidney disease.
The snapshot that I will always remember from this evening was how enthralled the audience appeared to be. As I spoke for those three minutes, I felt as though the room became frozen in time. Everything was so still. So quiet. Everyone was so attentive and engaged. It was a wonderful feeling to see and feel that support.
I was grateful to how well received my speech was and for all of the complimentary remarks that followed. A man walked up to me and the first words out of his mouth were, “I have it, too.” I knew exactly what he meant. He has PKD. We chatted for a while about PKD, our lab levels and our family history.
UKRO and their new kidney research center gives us hope for a brighter future for not only our families, but for future generations as well. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share my story at such an inspiring event.
With the New Year right around the corner, I commit to continue to be powered by hope, to enjoy the simple pleasures, embrace change and to keep sharing my story and working towards accomplishing my goals and realizing my dreams.
I want to thank all of you for your wonderful support with my new blog this year. I look forward to what 2013 will bring and I wish all of you the best holiday season. Here is to a healthy and Happy New Year!
To learn more about UKRO please visit ukrocharity.org
To view professional photographs from the event, please click here.