Happy 12th Birthday Precious ‘Bean’

Some people are scared of the unknown and don’t give it a chance to see how beautiful it can be. My grandmother and aunt, who passed away due to PKD, did not want a kidney transplant. My mom and I are clueless why. If they gave transplant a shot, it might have, could have, hopefully would have saved their lives. My mom said, “Unfortunately, neither of them had ‘wind beneath their wings.’” Twelve years ago there were many unknowns surrounding my life, but we took a big chance and it unfolded beautifully.

York Book Launch

Today marks my 12-year kidney transplant anniversary. My kidneyversary! On August 13, 2002, Sally Robertson, the mother of one of my closest high school friends, gave me a second chance at life. Today we celebrate the special birthday of our precious ‘bean.’

For this momentous occasion, I wanted to take a stroll down memory lane and recall 12 things I have been able to accomplish because of the gift of life …

1. I was named the first ever Davita Kidney Idol. Thank you to my dear friend Lisa Dalto who submitted an essay on why I was her kidney idol. I was selected by Davita as a finalist and after a nation-wide vote, named the first ever Davita Kidney Idol and won a 7 day Caribbean cruise.

2. Several years after my own transplant, I had a bird’s eye view in the operating room while a kidney was being removed. I then witnessed my transplant surgeon, Dr. Robert Montgomery, transplant that very kidney. It was miraculous to see the transplanted kidney produce urine for the first time. I was first hand witnessing the miracle of the gift of life.


3. My biography, “My Favorite American” by Dennis McCloskey was published when I was 25 years old. What an amazing journey! Thank you Dennis!

4. I took a month and traveled cross-country with my now husband, Noah. We visited national parks and experienced nature at its finest. A favorite mental snapshot was when a wild grey wolf ran across the road in front of our car in Yellowstone National Park. We watched it gracefully run into the woods until it disappeared.

5. Noah and I moved from York, Pennsylvania to Auburn, CA. This taught me what two people can accomplish together when they plan and follow their dreams. Also, how awesome change is.

6. I had the honor of riding on the Donate Life Float in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA. Wow; there will never be another experience like this one. It was life changing and awe-inspiring.

7. Noah and I got married on a granite foundation at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. It was the most magical day. I am one lucky woman!


8. I hiked 2,425 feet up the tallest waterfall trail in the US, and the second tallest in the world: Yosemite Falls. Coolest place I have taken my 2:00 p.m. transplant meds. Never underestimate what our bodies can endure and overcome.


9. Noah and I celebrated our 1-year wedding anniversary in Maui. We enjoyed adventures like zip lining and snorkeling. Noah and I were on our snorkeling adventure and hopped off the boat and into the water. We were holding hands and looked down into the water and saw two wild dolphins swimming below us. Amazing!

10. I have really enjoyed my previous ‘bean’ birthday celebrations. For my 9th year kidney transplant anniversary, Noah and I went parasailing above Lake Tahoe. On my 10th year anniversary I did 10 acts of kindness around my community. Last year for my 11th, I was so lucky to be with my parents and Noah at Lake Tahoe.

11. Thanks to my new lease on life, I have been able to become a voice for multiple causes such as PKD, kidney research with UKRO and Donate Life. I have shared my story to more than 80 events across North America. My first speaking engagement in 2004 was at the Stewartstown Lions Club in PA. My most recent one was at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA for a benefit dinner for University Kidney Research Organization. For the past two years I have been sharing my journey through this blog: PKD Will Not Beat Me.

12. Twelve years ago, I could never think past the present day in which I was fighting for my life. I would not have dreamed that I would achieve what I have in the past 12 years. My 12th accomplishment is today, because thanks to my kidney donor, every day is a beautiful accomplishment. From the huge undertakings to the simple every day pleasures, each day is a miracle.

To celebrate these past 12 years, I made my kidney donor, Sally, a special flower arrangement. I selected 12 different items to place in the vase. Each item a different color and style. All of them representing a year of life that she so graciously gave me. The past 12 years have been spectacular, unique and the best years of my life.

Flower 1Flower 2 Flower 3

Flower 4

Thank you to my transplant surgeon, Dr. Robert Montgomery, who took a risk at transplanting me when I was too sick to be placed on the waiting list but needed a kidney to survive. Thank you to the doctors and nurses who made critical decisions and helped restore me into the healthy woman I am today. Thank you to my mom and dad for never leaving my side and showing me that although I was not rich in health, I was rich in love. To my husband Noah, thank you for loving me, keeping the sparkle in my eye and my zest for life alive. All of this is possible because of you Sally. Thank you, Sally, for giving me the ‘wind beneath my wings’ and the opportunity to keep living, loving and learning how beautiful life is. I hope we can continue to add many many flowers to your vase.


  1. Marsha Byers Etnier

    Valen, another beautiful story by a beautiful lady. Thank you for sharing and wishing you many, many more of these birthdays and many, many blessings along with them. You are such an inspiration to all of us dealing with PKD. Blessings….xoxoxo <3

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Marsha,
      Thank you for your continued support and sweetness! 🙂 I appreciate your beautiful wishes and blessings. Sending love your way! xoxo

  2. Nicole

    Thankyou Valen for opening up and sharing. What a beautiful outlook! My 6month old daughter has polycystic kidney disease and went into kidney failure at 1 month old. She is currently on PD dialysis and will need a transplant once she is big enough. We are very nervous about the transplant but we know that it will help her thrive and have a long beautiful life, like yourself!! Nicole

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Nicole,
      Thank you very much! I am so sorry that your sweet child is suffering from PKD so young. I hope she is able to receive the gift of life real soon so that she can be free of dialysis and spread her wings and fly. I wish your beautiful daughter a long and beautiful life. Please keep me posted on the progression of her receiving a transplant. All the best to your family. Big hugs!

  3. Maciej

    Dear Valen,

    Happy birthday 😉 !

    We wish you strength and health in your everyday PKD fight!

    Maciej & Fryderyk

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Maciej & Fryderyk,
      It is so wonderful to hear from you. You have been on my mind lately. Thank you for the wonderful birthday wishes. I hope everything is going well for your family. Hugs!

  4. Jane Knaub

    You are a special lady and a very inspiring one and a very grateful one. Wishing you many more anniversaries to come.

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Jane,
      Thank you very much for the kind anniversary wishes. Here’s to many more! 🙂 xo

  5. Cheri Barton

    Happy kidney birthday Valen. You continue to inspire everyone around you.

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Cheri,
      Thank you for the sweet birthday wishes. You inspire me! Love to you and your family!

  6. Berta J

    I just found your blog and IG account today and it’s been some amazing reading. My mom was diagnosed with PKD when she was pregnant with me 23 years ago and received a kidney transplant in 2000. I’ve have been there the moments when they diagnosed my brother and when they ran an ultrasound wand over my sisters kidney and told her that she also had it. It’s something nobody around me seems to know or care about and I’m always happy to explain how dang important your kidneys are! We lost my mom due to complications of her transplant kidney failing a month and 2 days ago. Thank you for your blog and sharing your thoughts and experiences.

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Berta,
      I am thankful that you found my blog and have enjoyed it. I appreciate you sharing your family journey with PKD. You have endured a lot and I am so very sorry that your mother passed away. I hope the love and support from your family is keeping you strong. Thank you for your kind words. I wish you and your family all the best!

  7. Lindsey Caldwell

    Hi there Valen, I’m Lindsey! I have a question and would love to speak with you. Please email me when you have time, thanks so much! Looking forward to hearing from you.

  8. Dawn Huth

    I am so happy you are here and celebrating your anniversary. I just celebrated 9years on dialysis. For me it is a personal choice. I was on the list for 8 years without one call. I took myself off the list. For me it was the right decision. Doesn’t mean I have no wind beneath my wings. Just means I choose another way to fly. Each person must choose their own path even when our options are limited. I choose life. Congratulations on your anniversary and much love.

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Dawn,
      Thank you very much! Absolutely beautiful inspiring words spoken from a true PKD warrior. Thank you for sharing your important and wise perspective with all of us. I greatly appreciate your kind words of support and anniversary wishes. Keep flying strong my friend. Lots of love to you!

  9. Cecilia Hofmann

    Valen, it is wonderful to know about your journey and to know how much you appreciate the gift of life. I am a friend of Denise D. G. and I have prayed for your health with Denise and other friends in Tuesdays With Mary. You have truly made the world a better place with all of your actions these past 12 years. The next 12 years will be astounding!!

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Cecilia,
      Thank you very much for this thoughtful message. I absolutely love and appreciate everyone at Tuesdays with Mary who have supported and prayed for me throughout my journey. Thank you for everything. Please tell everyone hi on Tuesday! 🙂

  10. Andrea Troutman

    Congrats on your kidney birthday! I love to hear great stories. May you have many more.

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Andrea,
      Thank you for the great birthday wishes! Take care!


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