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“Say Yes To Life” – A Rainbow of Hope

I gasp with excitement every time I see a rainbow. There is something so magical about unexpectedly spotting an arched array of colors in the sky. It feels as though I am receiving a gift from nature and I can’t help but feel hopeful, inspired and full of wonder. My kidney transplant has taught me to appreciate little things in life – like soaking in the magic of a rainbow. I had a similar experience and resulting emotions on April 13th at Sierra Donor Service’s (SDS) National Donate Life Month Blue & Green Day celebration.

When arriving at the Sacramento State Capitol for the event, one of the first things I saw was a handcrafted and very decorative rainbow on the steps of the Capitol and a multitude of pinwheels spinning in the wind. It was a beautiful day, full of sunshine and the classic California blue sky creating a gorgeous backdrop for SDS’s press conference. The goal of the event was to honor donors, celebrate transplants and call attention to the critical shortage of organs and the need for more Californians to join the Donate Life Registry. I believe that, and more, was accomplished.

The event kicked off with Deanna Santana and Monica Johnson from Sierra Donor Services making a few opening remarks. I then had the honor of publicly sharing the story of my primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) and liver transplant journey for the first time. I cried while writing my speech but I remained poised while delivering my story. I’m in the thick of it right now with my deteriorating health, and my emotions are quite raw. I’m at the stage of still trying to process the feeling that everything happening is real. I shared with the audience how I received a kidney transplant over 15 years ago due to polycystic kidney disease (PKD); that I am now in need of a new liver due to PSC and the stage I’m at in the waiting list process. I was grateful for the opportunity to share my story while in the midst of waiting for a liver transplant in hopes to illuminate the shortage of organs and hopefully inspire others to join the registry and help those of us waiting for a transplant.

There are many facets and emotions connected to organ donation, in general, and to my situation, in particular, and the other two speakers illustrated this. Following my speech, an incredible donor father, Chip Atkin spoke. Chip shared how his son, Trey, passed away at 11-years-old and was an organ donor. Chip explained how honoring his son by continuing to share Trey’s story has helped him as he grieves the loss of his child. Following Chip’s touching sentiments, Christian Sutton took the stage. Christian shared how he received a heart transplant as a baby and the fulfilling life he has led thanks to receiving the gift of life. Christian is a college student and passionately spoke about how his heart donor has shaped his life and gave him the drive to give back to others. Together, our stories created a beautiful rainbow of hope.

The ceremony concluded with the three of us placing pinwheels in the dedication garden. The personal messages on my two pinwheels read: “Thank you, Sally, for my second chance at life!” and “Thank you to my future donor who said YES!”

As a kidney transplant recipient from a living donor and now on the waiting list for a liver from a deceased donor, I was extremely moved to be a part of this incredibly inspiring event. It was very touching to have Chip Atkin say encouraging words to me and give me a hug. This is a man who lost his child and gave others the gift of life. I’m waiting for a generous family like Chip’s to give me a second chance. I connected with–and received hope from–a man who was post-liver transplant. I also met a man around my age who is waiting for a heart and liver transplant. We shared a meaningful conversation that only those waiting for a transplant could have, which concluded with a sincere embrace. I was fortunate to experience this beautiful day with a dear friend, Julia Adams, who also knows firsthand the miracle of transplantation. Julia’s husband donated his kidney to their daughter.

This special Blue & Green Day exemplified how loss and life and grief and joy can come together to create a rainbow of hope for others. Just like when I unexpectedly spot a rainbow in the sky, I left Sierra Donor Service’s event feeling hopeful, inspired and full of wonder. I have seen firsthand and experience the miracle of transplantation every day. I know how good life can be post-transplant. As I wait for a new liver, I’m looking forward to reaching the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and once again being on the happy side of transplantation.

How did you celebrate Blue & Green Day? We’d love to hear about it and any other events you’ve been a part of during Donate Life Month. Please share in the comment section below.

Valen Keefer

 

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