A letter from a transplant recipient to her donor

Valen and her donor, Sally

Dear Sally,

Many of us only get one chance at life. A chance to grow up, dream big, find our purpose and fulfill it. Looking back, when I was a teenager, I did not have many dreams or plans for my future. I didn’t envision the man of my dreams, my perfect wedding, how many kids I wanted, or what my ideal house would look like. Maybe that was because I grew up with PKD and subconsciously knew I had a disease for which there is no cure. My health challenges shifted my focus and priorities to different things than most young people my age would desire.

Valen and Emily in high school

I met your daughter, Emily, in middle school and in turn met you, my lifesaver. I recall coming over to your house many times to pick up Em and there you were, the woman that carried my future kidney that, years later, would afford me the chance to keep living. I always thought you were so beautiful and still do to this day. You were so kind and welcoming, with the sweetest voice. None of us had any idea how sick I would be in the years to come or that you would be inspired to give a piece of yourself to me. Life is beautiful like that; mysterious and miraculous.

I often hear people say how hard it is to write a letter to their donor family after receiving a transplant from a deceased donor. Sometimes it takes them years to write the note and get the courage to send it. There are times when people hear back from the families and other times when they don’t. It is such a heart-wrenching and bittersweet bond between donor families and recipients. I feel so blessed to have you, a living donor, because you are a close part of my life and all aspects of our miracle are joyous. We can celebrate the happy moments of our journeys together and I’m lucky to have your support through the challenging times. You are a gift in so many ways.

I am in awe that this Sunday, Aug. 13, will be our 15-year transplant anniversary. In honor of this monumental day, I’m writing my first public letter to you. I’ve thanked you countless times before and I show my gratitude by how I live each precious day you’ve given me, but this year feels a little different, reaching a milestone I never fathomed I would see. I want you and the world to know how special you and this life are to me.

Valen and Sally the day after their transplant

Our transplant day feels like a lifetime ago, yet it is so vivid in my memory. I remember the early morning car ride with my mom and dad to Johns Hopkins Hospital. I recall the sound and feel of our car driving over the cobblestone street by the hospital and listening to “Bring on the Rain” by JoDee Messina. I can still feel our tight loving embrace and you whispering encouraging words in my ear before they wheeled you off for surgery. Then I recall waking up from my transplant surgery feeling better than I had in a very long time.

That day changed my life. You changed my life and gave me a second chance, something that not everyone is so fortunate to receive. You afforded me the opportunity to grow up. Unlike when I was a teenager, I now dream big, have found my purpose – using our journey to help others – and I am doing my best to fulfill that every day. I met the man of my dreams, who I married on a granite foundation at Yosemite National Park. We followed our hopes and aspirations and moved across the country from Pennsylvania to California. I’m writing this from our beautiful first home in Auburn. You made all of this possible.

I can’t fathom the thought that my life could have been cut short at 19 and I would have missed out on the past 15 years, because they have been extraordinary. Your gift has had a ripple effect of giving. You gave my parents their daughter back and gave my husband his wife. Our story has reached and touched countless lives all over the world.

You have the truest faith I have ever seen. I can feel its purity when I’m in your presence. Your aura is angelic and it seems like you float when you walk into a room. You are the epitome of selflessness. Our bond is indescribable and irreplaceable. I’m grateful to share this journey with you in a way that can’t be shared with anyone else. I love you and our kidney like no other! No matter what the future holds for me, please know you have given me the most beautiful years of my life. I hope I can write you another letter fifteen years from now.


  1. Barry B II

    Happy Transplantaversary!! 15 years,that is a good extra bit of living you have been blessed with. God Bless both of you!!

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Barry!
      Thank you very much! Yes, 15 years is incredible and I’m so grateful! Hoping for many more years with my precious bean! 🙂 Hope you’re doing great!

  2. Denise Phipps

    What a beautiful letter! I am crying…God Bless you both with many more happy, healthy years!!

    • Valen Keefer

      Thank you very much, Denise. That means a lot! I’m grateful that you read my letter and that it touched your heart.


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