Life is coming up roses

Valen with Sacramento Chapter Coordinator Julia Adams (left) and her daughter Elizabeth Adams (right) at the rose-planting event

I love when an idea unfolds organically, with serendipitous surprises along the way that lead one to believe it was all meant to be. This is what happened with my 15-year kidney transplant anniversary event. I felt that reaching such a milestone deserved a meaningful celebration. I also wanted to honor my donor in a way that would allow me to use this special occasion as a platform to raise awareness for organ donation, and everything fell into place.

My friend, Deanna Santana, who works for Sierra Donor Services, told me that red roses are a traditional 15-year anniversary gift and suggested I plant a rose bush in honor of my donor. I instantly fell in love with the idea. I contacted the Auburn Recreation Park, a beautiful park close to our home, shared my story with them, and asked if I could plant a rose bush at their park. They were excited about the idea and I met with the park’s Landscape Architect to discuss details. We walked over to their rose garden and there was an open spot – front and center – where a rose bush had been before. We both agreed that spot was meant to be for this occasion – serendipitous event number one. Once the location was secured, I was off to select the perfect rose bush. I went to our local nursey, Eisley’s. Little did I know I was about to learn a lot about roses and encounter serendipitous event number two.

Ingrid Berman rose bush

At Eisley’s, I was introduced to Valerie, who cares for all their roses. She was so patient and kind and showed me all the different kinds of rose bushes. I had no idea there were so many, from Mister Lincoln to Black Magic, Preference, Ingrid Bergman and even an Oh My bush. Coming up with a game plan, we decided to consider which varieties would be best so I could come back a week later and choose from the prettiest ones she set aside. Then, I would return the night before the event and pick which bush from the chosen variety I liked best. I was so appreciative of her help. Before we parted, we exchanged business cards. She looked at my card, then said, “PKD” and looked up at me with an expression I won’t forget. She told me that her sister-in-law has PKD and received a kidney transplant a couple months ago. We then discovered that her sister-in-law and I are connected via Facebook and that she reads this very blog. Our good-bye included tears and hugs. The rose bush now took on a whole new meaning—it was a sign that everything was unfolding just as it was supposed to.

Angela sharing a photo of her late husband and daughter

Next, I worked with Deanna from Sierra Donor Services on details for the event: creating a press release, reaching out to media, inviting friends, and all the fun tasks in between. We created a Facebook event page for the celebration. A woman named Angela reached out on our event page and said she would be honored to attend. It turned out that the day of my event was the two-year anniversary of the deaths of her husband and daughter in a tragic car accident. Her daughter, who became an organ donor, saved four lives. I got goosebumps reading her comment and was so moved that she wanted to attend my event. I reached out to her and expressed my appreciation and how serendipitous (third time’s the charm) it was that my event would take place the same day as a monumental milestone in her journey, too – yet at opposite ends of the spectrum. I asked if she would be willing to share her story at my event and she agreed. With all of these divine happenings prior to the event, I was so excited for the day to come.

Valen and event attendants with Bethany Crouch from the Good Day Sacramento

On August 23rd, I arrived at Auburn Rec Park full of joy and gratitude. Next thing I knew everything was set up, all the guests were there, and Bethany Crouch from the Good Day Sacramento TV show arrived and was ready to start interviewing. I kicked off the event by welcoming everyone and then introduced Angela to share her touching connection to organ donation. I felt it was important to highlight all facets of organ donation, not just the celebratory side but also recognizing the families and survivors of people who have passed and saved lives by donating their organs. Angela told me it was healing for her to attend the event and I believe it shows her strength and compassion that she wanted to attend a celebration of life after losing her daughter just two years ago. I believe our paths were meant to cross. Who knows, maybe I was led to do this event to help her heal. I’m so grateful to have had her and her family there. In addition to them, there was a wide array of guests including other recipients, PKD patients, living donors, donor families, friends, doctors, family, and new friends that I was just meeting. I was extremely touched by everyone who joined us.

Balloon release

We received extraordinary media coverage and a front-page article in the Auburn Journal raising awareness for organ donation. The event brought the organ donation community together to connect, share stories and make new friends – just what I had hoped for. We planted a beautiful Ingrid Bergman rose bush in honor of my donor, Sally Robertson, and we did a balloon release in honor of all who have transformed the lives of others through their decision to donate life. There were 15 green and blue balloons to represent Donate Life colors and 13 pink ones to represent my transplant anniversary date and the pink California donor dot. It was a beautiful and magical day full of so much love and life. If you would have told me 15 years ago, when I was in dire need of a lifesaving kidney transplant, that life would be this beautiful in 2017, I would have had trouble believing it could be this good. Miracles do happen.

Toward the end of the event, I shared a special moment with a donor mom, Monica. We had never met before and she drove a fair distance to attend the event. A couple days following the event was the two-year anniversary of losing her son who was an organ donor. She told me that meeting me made her feel “ok.” This really touched my heart. I walked over to the planted rose bush with Monica and we stood together looking at it and holding hands. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

Valen with her rose bush at Auburn Recreation Park

This day exemplified the beauty of the community joining together for a cause and the importance and power of support. Support helps us heal and it keeps us fighting. Support helps us live fulfilling lives and helps us raise awareness. I am always grateful for the amazing circle of support I have in my life. Now I have this beautiful rose bush as a treasured reminder of an amazing celebration and the incredible second chance I was afforded, thanks to Sally. The gift of life has given me such an appreciation of the beauty of the small things in life and I would like to encourage everyone to stop and smell the roses more often.

Do you have a special rose bush in your garden of life?


  1. Carla Markley

    A heartfelt and wonderful blog. Thank you Valen for your inspirational messages each time you write of your journey.

    • Valen Keefer

      Thank you so much, Carla! I greatly appreciate your friendship and continued support. xoxo


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