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My Angel Was My Friend

 Think back to when you were 18-years-old. For most this was a time of wrapping up high school, possibly starting college, and adventuring out into the big, exciting world of adulthood. However, for me this was a time of fighting for my life. I spent almost a year in the hospital when I was 18 and 19, where both kidneys were removed; I was on daily dialysis and needed a kidney to survive. I was too sick to be placed on the transplant waiting list, so I needed a living donor.

My lifesaver was a family friend who I met when I was in 8th grade, Sally Robertson. She stepped forward to be tested, was a wonderful match and thanks to her, I received the gift of life on August 13, 2002. This second chance afforded me the opportunity to age and grow into the woman I am today, a healthy 33-year-old woman with a passion and a mission to inspire others.

I believe I am alive today to use my journey to empower and give hope. I am a blog writer for the PKD Foundation, with almost 200 articles published on PKD Will Not Beat Me on how to live positively post-transplant and with an incurable disease at this time, polycystic kidney disease. I’ve shared my story at more than 90 events across North America. My biography titled, “My Favorite American,” by Canadian author Dennis McCloskey was published in 2008. I am a national spokesperson for University Kidney Research Organization, a PKD advocate and a Donate Life ambassador. My threefold mission is to promote public education on PKD, kidney research, the success of organ transplant and the ever-growing need for organ donation.

I strive to find creative ways of raising awareness and celebrating life. I flew home to Pennsylvania from California and surprised my kidney donor, Sally, on August 13th so we could celebrate our 14-year transplant anniversary together. In honor of September 1st being PKD Awareness Day, I created a 30-day social media photo album where I shared priceless moments from our celebration of life and love in hopes to raise awareness of PKD and organ donation through the entire month.

My goal is to have the photos give hope to those waiting for a transplant, inspire recipients to live a fulfilling life, and encourage others to be an organ donor and give someone else the beautiful gift of life and hope for a healthy future. I want to make my donor proud of the decision she made to give me her kidney and also show donors how grateful recipients are and how life changing their gift can be.

By Valen Keefer

To read Valen’s Blog visit:

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On my way to surprise my kidney donor, Sally, at her home…14 balloons in my hand and all smiles…


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You can’t have a party without a cake! This kidney cake was made by our dear family friend, Barb Garrod! Everything about it and our celebration was perfect!


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My beautiful mom on our short walk from the car to Sally’s home. She’s carrying important party supplies, like angel wings – appropriate when you’re about to see the woman who saved your life!

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My sweet brother-in-law with the camera bag and dear friend and sister-in-law (Frister) behind the camera. Dad had the job of carrying the cake and not dropping it, Mom had the angel wings and I had 14 balloons. We were all set for the surprise and steps away from Sally’s home…


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Knock! Knock!…

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Surprises are fun! Especially when you’re about to see your kidney donor. This sums up how I felt waiting for Sally to open the door…


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Our first embrace…


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A love like no other.

The beauty and all I see and feel when I look at this photo makes me speechless. Sally’s selflessness, unconditional love, and decision to give me her kidney is why I’m alive today. No words can justify what it means to have this amazing woman’s love wrapped around me every day!

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This was shortly after we arrived. I was so happy to be sitting next to my lifesaver.


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14 balloons representing 14 years of life this extraordinary woman has given me!

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When I first saw this picture, I noticed how my hands are aging and thought about how lucky I am to be alive and able to see and experience the transformation of getting older…thanks to my kidney donor and her gift of life.


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The stunning woman who gave me a second chance. My kidney donor. My angel.

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Each new day is a gift from this beautiful woman and every day deserves to be celebrated!


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Hold on tight to your sweet memories, hopes, dreams and the ones you love!

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Their love and light has guided me, encouraged me and pulled me through my toughest days. Grateful for all my parents have done for me and how they helped to make our transplant anniversary special.


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Getting ready for the balloon release…

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And off they go…releasing, honoring and celebrating 14 beautiful years of life…


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Once we let them go, everyone got quiet and we watched them float off in silence…

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“Life is like a balloon. If you never let yourself go, you’ll never know how far you can rise.” Higher and higher they went…


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This is one of my favorites. Love is powerful! The bond between a donor and recipient can’t be described, only felt. Watching the balloons fly away became quite emotional…

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This picture makes me tear up every time I see it.

We were in our own worlds, yet deeply connected as we watched the balloons fly away. Here’s mom and dad, two extraordinary human beings who have sacrificed so much and endured more than two parents should have, because of raising a daughter with chronic health issues. Their stances and expressions cut right to my heart, as these are their serious faces, ones of contemplation and immense gratitude…


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Yesterday’s photo brought tears to my eyes and today’s picture switched my emotions to pure joy. This is so my mom! This is her “ta-da” arm pose or when she is really emphasizing what she is saying. I wish I knew what she said to dad here. Regardless, they look so happy, which makes my heart overflow with happiness. I love them both with all of my heart!

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Immersed in the moment and full of emotions as we watched the balloons until we couldn’t see them anymore…


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“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.” Here is the pretty sky the day we celebrated the selfless soul of my beautiful donor and the special life she has gifted me with…

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“There’s something so real about holding hands: some kind of complex simplicity. Saying so much by doing so little.” The hands and love that helped to heal me…


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Organ donation doesn’t just have an impact on one life, but rather all of those connected to the recipient. My kidney donor not only gave me my life back, but also gave my parents back their daughter!

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Sally looking at the wings I gave her. I wonder what it feels like to save someone’s life, to know that because of you they are alive and that you gave them a second chance? I wonder if Sally knows how special she is? I hope she does every single day.


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“Hope is like a balloon, it can’t soar to the heavens if you hold it by the string.” Tomorrow will be the last picture in my 30-day awareness photo album. Thanks for following along! I hope these pictures have been inspiring and encouraged you to be an organ donor and give hope to those waiting for a second chance.

Photo 30 of 30

“We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.”

Miracles happen! This is my angel.


Sally, thank you for being the “wind beneath my wings.”

Together we will touch the sky…

Photo credit:

Trinity Walker Keefer



chris klug foundation