“You were approved.” These three words could be said to a 35-year-old woman for many different reasons – maybe approved for a loan for a new home, approved to buy a car, approved for a promotion or maybe to move forward with adopting a child. For me, I heard these three words a couple days ago from my transplant coordinator, as I was approved to be placed on the liver transplant waiting list. This is one of those occasions where you aren’t sure what emotions are appropriate. There is nothing great about enduring health issues, but I am confident that serendipitous encounters and good can be found in the midst of everything. Meeting the Chris Klug Foundation (CKF) and the opportunity to be their blog writer is a perfect example.
It was no chance encounter meeting the CKF team. I know our paths were meant to cross in life and they did so at just the right time. I had the honor of being selected as one of CKF’s 2017 Bounce Back Give Back award winners. After knowing of and following the Chris Klug Foundation on social media for a couple years, I was ecstatic to be acknowledged by such a genuine and impactful organization. Little did I know this award would turn into much more. A couple months after being notified that I would be receiving the award in Aspen, Colorado, I was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), the same disease Chris Klug has. What are the odds? Not that great as this is a rare autoimmune disease. I trusted this was all happening for a reason.
After my PSC diagnosis in October 2017, it was less than two months until I met Chris Klug for the first time and received the Bounce Back Give Back Award at their annual Summit for Life event. Emotions of the new diagnosis were raw and the trip to Aspen to celebrate life and raise awareness of organ donation with CKF is just what my husband, Noah, and I needed. As there is no treatment or cure for PSC, and liver transplant is the only option, organ donation is at the forefront of our minds and it was comforting to be with an organization so dedicated to help all of us on the waiting list get a second chance. It inspired my husband and I, gave us hope and it was comforting to meet Chris and see him doing fantastic 17 years post liver transplant.
Unfortunately, and fortunately, I am not new to transplant as I received a kidney transplant over 15 years ago because of polycystic kidney disease (PKD.) Since my diagnosis at 10, the word kidney has been a huge part of my life and with being transplanted at 19 I knew that I may need another kidney transplant in my future, but never fathomed my liver too. To have a genetic disease of PKD and an autoimmune disease of PSC seems like too much for one body – just one of them alone is a lot. However, my health has taught me a lot and shaped me into the strong woman that I am today and I plan on using what I’ve learned from living with PKD to help me endure PSC.
After receiving my kidney transplant, I began volunteering and sharing my story and my story led to my purpose, passion and desire to educate and inspire. I began public speaking and learned of my love for writing. I have written over 225 articles for the PKD Foundation and I’m elated to write for the Chris Klug Foundation.
It was quite serendipitous to meet Chris Klug and be honored by him only a couple months after my PSC diagnosis and to now write my first blog for CKF during the same week I got approved to be placed on the liver transplant waiting list. This exemplifies that good can be found and exists no matter what we are facing. Our time in Aspen with the team at CKF was magical and it felt like all of it was happening for a bigger reason, and it was. I am humbled to have the opportunity to share my story with all of you and I hope you’ll join me on this extraordinary journey as I share parts of my life, write about varying organ donation topics and share other transplant stories. I hope that through my words and journey that I will set an example that one can live a fulfilling life post-transplant, the beauty of transplantation, how grateful organ recipients are, the impact someone can have on another life and the vital need for people to be organ donors and save people’s lives who are fighting so hard to live. My goal is no matter what you may be facing in life, that after reading my blogs you will be inspired, educated, comforted that you are not alone and encouraged to never lose hope.
– Valen Keefer