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In Honor of My Other Half

My transplant surgeon, Dr. Robert Montgomery, described me as someone who was depersonalized by my illness. I was fortunate to learn priceless thoughts and information from my transplant surgeon when the author of my biography, Dennis McCloskey, interviewed Dr. Montgomery for my biography in 2007. I was present in the room as the world-renowned surgeon addressed his comments to me:

“You had lost most of your hair, and you had a moon face as a result of a lot of excess fluid,” Dr. Montgomery explained. “You were featureless, and I know why: you were just so tired of people hurting you, poking and prodding you, and sticking needles in you. Whenever someone came near, you reacted and regressed. You were one of the youngest PKD patients I had ever seen and you were as sick as anyone I had ever seen with kidney trouble.” He continued, “You did not respond or engage, but there was something from within you, something shining that is still present as I look at you now; some light that I picked up on. The light was there, but everything else had been stripped away by illness. I am a very involved surgeon, but I was drawn into that drama and I got very much more involved in your case. In the end, we transplanted you in a condition that I normally wouldn’t.”

To this day, it still amazes me to read this as these words came from the Associate Professor of Surgery, Director of Incompatible Kidney Transplant Program, Chief of the Division of Transplantation, and Director of the Comprehensive Transplant Center at the Johns Hopkins University and Hospital.

As I write this today, more than 10 years after receiving the gift of life, I am full of emotion and in awe at how my kidney transplant not only saved my life but it transformed that girl once depersonalized by her illness into the strong healthy woman I am today. I was too sick to be put on the transplant waiting list but needed a kidney to survive. I was so ill that I don’t remember all the details but I know that several generous individuals stepped forward and offered to donate their kidney. Some were people from my dad’s work; one was a friend from high school; and another was a high school friend’s mother. In my time of dire need, the kidneys of both the friend and the friend’s mother were ideal matches.

My donor’s name is Sally Robertson. I know everyone’s donor is an angel, but Sally is truly angelic. She is a woman of strong faith, of tall stature, quiet beauty, and has the most calming voice I have ever heard. Sally is gorgeous with the sweetest soul. She has the prettiest hair, kindest eyes, a heart of gold, and a smile that melts my heart. I have known her since I was in 8th grade when I became friends with her daughter, Emily. It is amazing to think my second chance at life was right before me for so many years. I am very thankful to have a living donor who I can stay in touch with. Sally lives in Pennsylvania and I live in California. Tears fill my eyes as I think of what I miss the most: her hugs. She gives the best hugs and would always whisper words of love and encouragement as she held me tight. I always wondered why would a married woman, with a full-time job, and five children, choose to donate her kidney with no hesitation.

I was fortunate to learn the answer when the author of my biography, Dennis, interviewed Sally in September 2007. Sally’s family is important to her and so is her Christianity. Sally said, “I am a Christian and that sums up who and what I am. He (God) is the reason I gave my kidney to Valen. I knew she was a very sick young woman and if there was anything I could do to help her, I would. Jesus is my savior. Without him I am nothing. He has given me hope and peace beyond any understanding, and forgiveness like I don’t deserve. He loves me unconditionally, in spite of myself. I wanted Valen to have a kidney and for her to know unconditional love and have her know the Lord loves her so much.”

During this once in a lifetime interview, Sally looked at me and said, “He never left you, Valen. We live in a broken world, in a world where bad things happen and we have terrible illnesses and diseases and people are dying and people are hurting and they may not fully understand it; but God never leaves us. He never forsakes us. He is always there and He wants us to turn to Him. I was just the instrument for God to love Valen and give her a hope and future. There was never a condition for this kidney, Valen. This was a gift to you. You did not have to do or say anything to earn it, because we cannot earn God’s love. It’s a totally free gift.”

To this day, her words full of love, faith and grace overwhelm me. My heart feels tight and tears stream down my face and it is hard to find the words to share my tremendous appreciation to be alive today. To be so lucky to be shown His unconditional love from Sally, to feel Sally’s unconditional love, my parents’ and Noah’s unconditional love. I wipe the tears from my cheeks and off my keyboard as I pray for those of you out there waiting for a transplant who I hope will be as fortunate as me and be given a second chance at life.

In honor of Donate Life Month I want to honor and thank Sally. I want to thank every organ donor out there. I want to thank all of you who have signed up to be organ donors. I want Sally to know that I live every day to make her proud of the decision that she made to give me her kidney. I hope that how I live my life shows everyone the miracle of transplantation. It is important to me to show donors how grateful recipients are and that their ‘gift’ is life-changing. Sally, thank you for giving me the opportunity to teach, to love and to live the beautiful life you have so graciously given me. It is an honor to carry a piece of you with me every day.

 

Comments

  1. Pam Cover says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. Yet another heartfelt, wonderfully written post.

    1. Valen Keefer says:

      Thank you Mom! My eyes were filled with tears while writing most of this post. So grateful for your love! xo

  2. jie says:

    Unconditional love.Sally is an angel.

    1. Valen Keefer says:

      I couldn’t agree more Jie! What Sally did is the epitome of unconditional love.

  3. Mary says:

    Beautiful! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Valen Keefer says:

      Thank you Mary! It is an honor and my pleasure to share. I am so grateful to be alive and have the opportunity to share the beautiful gift of life I have been given!

  4. Jennifer C. says:

    Both you and Sally have beautiful hearts. Such an amazing story and thank you for sharing. Totally teary right now.

    1. Valen Keefer says:

      Aww, thank you so much Jennifer! I get teary eyed myself thinking of these defining moments in my life. Very emotional to think back to how bad things were and am amazed at how far I have come and how the kidney transplant not only transformed my body back to life, but transformed me into the woman I am today.

  5. Marie Liming says:

    Absolutely beautifully said. What a gift to give and what a gift to receive! Amazing!

    1. Valen Keefer says:

      Hi Marie! Thank you very much! I could never find the words to justify the feelings surrounding this life altering gift. A gift that I have never seen, never touched but touches my life greatly every day! A true miracle!

  6. Kim Muller says:

    Another great story! Our donors sound very much alike, though I did not know my donor before she stepped forward. A single mother of two young children, who wanted to do something for another person in need. She also wanted to teach her children about being of service to others.

    I, too, cannot find adequate words to express my gratitude. I will show that gratitude through our friendship, and by working to help others through their journey with PKD, dialysis and, hopefully, their transplants.

    I feel a tremendous responsibility to respect this gift and the giver and will try every day to be worthy of this gift.

    You have put your gratitude into beautiful words.

    1. Valen Keefer says:

      Hi Kim,
      Thank you! Wow, how amazing is that?! Your donor is incredible!
      I agree, I feel as though since words will never express my gratitude, that I hope my actions do.
      It makes me happy to hear how respectful you are of the gift of life that you have received.
      Keep embracing and enjoying every day!
      Sending happy and healthy kidney vibes your way.
      Thank you for your kind compliments on my blog. 🙂

      1. Kim Muller says:

        I am so grateful every day that I wake up and feel good, which has been pretty much every day since Nov. 8, 2012!

        Hope we can meet one day. I do come to L.A. a couple of times a year to visit my best friend.

      2. Kim Muller says:

        I am so grateful every day that I wake up and feel good, which has been pretty much every day since Nov. 8, 2012!

        Hope we can meet one day. I do come to L.A. a couple of times a year to visit my best friend.

        1. Valen Keefer says:

          Hi Kim,
          That’s awesome! I live in Northern CA about 40 minutes northeast of Sacramento. 🙂

          1. Kim Muller says:

            My mom is in Humboldt, maybe I’ll be able to make a detour. Uncle lives in Sacramento.

          2. Valen Keefer says:

            That would be fun! My husband and I want to travel up the northern coast. It is on our list of many things we want to do and see. 🙂

  7. Amy Dixon says:

    It’s truely a miracle that you are doing so well (with lots of love and support of course). Sally is the definition of a true friend- she risked her life to give you yours. Although my husband’s kidney donor was a deceased donor, our hearts are full of thanksgiving. He’s had juvenile diabetes for over 40 years and recieved the transplant at UAB-Birmingam on October 29, 1991 (over 21 years now). Although his kidney had failed in 2008, we still celebrate “Maynard’s” (his kidney’s nickname) every year! It’s a big party and most our friends and family are present, we have a kidney-shaped cake, and we say a prayer of thanksgiving for being given the gift of life (yet, are sad for the family who lost their loved one to make this possible). We wish you many more years of life with Sally and your loved ones and your transplant.

    1. Valen Keefer says:

      Hi Amy,
      I do feel so blessed to be surrounded by such love. I say I was not blessed with the best of health but I have been blessed with unconditional love. I wonder what it would feel like to have a deceased kidney. I am sure there are so many different emotions involved there compared to having a living donor. I still find it hard to fathom that Sally’s kidney is living in me and keeping me alive. Such a miracle! I love how you named the kidney and continue to celebrate it in a beautiful way. Is your husband back on dialysis and on the waiting list since his kidney failed in 2008? How is he feeling? Thank you for the beautiful well wishes and I wish all the best for your husband, you and your family!

  8. Amy says:

    Good Morning. My husband got back on the waiting list January of 2009; but unfortunately, he was removed from all hospital’s lists last year because he was too high risk because his vascular system is shot (severe atherosclerosis from over 40 years of juvenile diabetes). We were originally listed in Oklahoma (because the waiting list is shorter here) and UAB. Then we tried for Johns Hopkins, but by then it was too late. 🙁 We hoped he could get a second transplant, but the wait was too long. He even had 4 living donors step forward, but none of them worked out for various reasons. I’ve beed giving him home hemo dialysis since last summer. He is a lot more comfortable at home-in his own bed, bigscreen, coffee, and me and “Duke” by his side! Things are not going well now because he is on hospice for “dibility” and he’s recently started pain management. There will be a point that his body will no longer be able to endure dialysis. Until that day-I will continue to give him treatments at home. Don’t be sad for us, because he did have 17 GREAT years and has a positive attitude through everything. After college, he finished college and was very successful as a computer engineer, we went camping and took hundreds of raod trips (mostly out west and in California & Oregon). We have no regrets and still cherish every day we have together!

    1. Valen Keefer says:

      Hi Amy,
      I am so sorry to hear that he has been removed from the list. Aww, you are so sweet. Dialysis is not fun, but the way you described his dialysis, it seems as good as it can get. 🙂 Even though you say to not be sad, I am very sad to hear of how things are going. How old is he now? I am so glad to know that you are by his side. That is invaluable. Makes me think of Noah and I, because no matter what is going on and how bad a certain day is, we still cherish every day because we are together. That is a beautiful thing that not everyone has. I feel very lucky for that. Thank you for being such a wonderful wife and caregiver to your husband. Is there still a chance that you can find a living donor for him? Sending all my love.

  9. Amy says:

    Oops. He actually got back on the list at the beginning of 2008 (when his kidney graft started to fail). A pre emptive tranplant (which means one you get before you need to start dialysis) is more successful. His creatnine began slowly creeping up over the period of 5 years before it finally failed. I know you will keep going back to your doctor to get blood labs so they can monitor this. And people with PKD are generally healthier than those with diabetes. We have many friends that have had their kidney transplants for 20+ years! And now the immunosuppresive drug are more advanced and less toxic for your kidney.

    1. Valen Keefer says:

      Hi Amy,
      Yes, I get monthly blood work done and see my nephrologist every 4 months. He said the goal is to monitor my kidney function and as my kidney starts to fail, to be proactive and hopefully get everything all lined up to get a new kidney before the need of dialysis. I sure hope the process will be seamless because dialysis was so hard on my body. That is so encouraging to hear that you have many friends that have had their kidney transplants for more than 20 years. I hope I become one of them! 🙂 I take prograf and prednisone. The prograf started to become toxic to my kidney and caused scarring. They did a biopsy and showed that the prograf was becoming toxic and have lowered my dose as low as they could, but still have me on it. They said that I will have to be on prednisone forever, even when I would get another transplant.

  10. Robert lawson says:

    hello,

    my names are Robert Lawson, a 38 years old, the doctor confirm that my two kidney well OK that i can use one kidney, and i want to give out one of them to who ever needs it, because in my life i made a var that i will save life know matter what it will take from me. of what use it is to me if i can not help that one ding soul. do not ask me why, because it is what i have made up my mind to do.
    i pray that you will not die but live.

    You can contact me on Email: robertlawson09@gmail.com

    Mr Lawson.

    1. Valen Keefer says:

      Robert,
      It is great that you want to be a kidney donor! The best way to facilitate that process is by contacting a kidney transplant center. They can walk you through what you need to do. You can find additional information on transplant centers on KidneyLink, where they have a Center Locator http://www.kidneylink.org/

  11. Every time I read this I can’t help but cry. All but some of your experiences have been identical to mine; but because of you I always had this unshakeable sense of hope for your life as well as mine 🙂 xoxo

    1. Valen Keefer says:

      Dearest Christy,
      Thank you so much! Our unshakeable sense of hope is why we are such strong woman today! Never lose that hope! Sending you lots of love! xo

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