Congratulations to the winners of the Astellas Ride of a Lifetime 2011 contest. These five winners submitted essays describing how their lives had been transformed by transplantation, for a chance to participate in the 2011 Rose Parade®—one of the most celebrated entertainment events in the world.
Each of the five winners, plus one guest of his or her choosing, will travel to Pasadena, California, for five days to meet other transplant recipients from around the country, work with the Donate Life team to help build the float, and attend special receptions honoring the transplant community. Then, on January 1, 2011, the five contest winners will ride aboard the Donate Life float in the Rose Parade in celebration of those unique individuals whose lives have been touched by transplantation.
A panel of judges selected the five essay winners who best demonstrated the degree of transformation they experienced as a result of transplantation.
Astellas would like to thank all those who submitted essays to the Astellas Ride of a Lifetime 2011 contest, and congratulate the following five winners, who will experience the ride of a lifetime on January 1, 2011:
Kidney Transplant Recipient
Click here to read Arbeny’s story
Heart Transplant Recipient
Click here to read Jennifer’s story
Valen Elizabeth Cover
Kidney Transplant Recipient
Click here to read Valen’s story
Liver Transplant Recipient
Click here to read Emmalyn’s story
Kansas City, KS
Kidney Transplant Recipient
Click here to read Scott’s story
The Donate Life Rose Parade float is coordinated by OneLegacy, a nonprofit transplant donor network serving 18 million people in Southern California.
Rose Parade is a registered trademark of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association.
Donate Life America is a registered trademark of Donate Life America.
My Guardian Angel
I had the impression that all birthdays would be fun and exciting, and they were until my 13th birthday. I was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. I was prescribed all types of medicine, and from that point on I felt everyone looked at me differently.
Some kids would tease me, but not Kenesha Reed. She has been my best friend since the 3rd grade, and has always had my back. When my family and I discussed what was going on with me, she gave me a hug and said, “Arby, it’s going to be all right.” I believed and trusted her because we were so close. I went through high school without a care in the world.
I kept my grades up as I danced and cheered my way through until graduation. Summer 2007 I developed a passion for dance and decided to attend the University of Memphis and obtain my bachelor’s in dance education. My dream was to open my very own dance studio. My freshman year in college I was so excited, I got up early to get prepared for class, and that routine suddenly changed when I woke up very fatigued with no strength to make it out of bed. At that point I knew something was wrong, and I called my mother and had her take me to the doctor.
I was told I had reached end-stage renal failure and it was now time to discuss dialysis and transplant. I knew that this was critical and shouldn’t be taken lightly. I tried my best to make it through the semester, but failed a few of my classes due to appointments, weekly hospital stays, and depression. January 2008 I began peritoneal dialysis and dialyzed every night for eight hours. During this time I was placed on the transplant list, family members were tested, but no one was a match; and in the midst my father was diagnosed with the same disease.
I became very depressed, stressed, and continued to ask God, “Why me?” I had a very supportive family to keep me lifted. My parents were in the process of adopting five children while continuing to take care of me. While continuing to dialyze every night, I started to gain a great relationship with God. I no longer thought negatively.
I began to dance again, took my hands off the situation, gave it to God, and waited! On one special day my phone rang and on the other end was My Guardian Angel, Kenesha. “Arby, on my birthday I’m going to get tested,” she said. A river of tears flowed down my face and all I could say was “Thank you, God.” It was like I already knew that she would be a match. Needless to say, she was!
December 16, 2008, Kenesha and I went under the knife without a care in the world, just God and each other. John 15:13 says, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And for her to risk her life for me, and let God use her to give me a second chance at life; she is truly my Guardian Angel. Since the transplant I have become more involved in the transplant community. We have been selected to be the living donor spokespersons for Methodist Transplant Institute, and have participated in numerous activities in the city of Memphis.
I will be returning to the University of Memphis as a dance education major in the fall. I plan to pursue my dream of opening my dance studio, and continue to volunteer and give my testimony every chance I get. Having a transplant has inspired me so much and has given me that extra push to achieve my goals in life. I have learned that everything happens for a reason, and my reason is to continue uplifting others and show what God is capable of doing if you trust and believe.
It would be an honor to be selected to participate in the Astellas Ride of a Lifetime 2011 contest and in the Rose Parade. I would gratefully share this experience with my donor, Kenesha Reed.
The phrase “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” from Robert Burns is very fitting for transplant patients. I was a Pediatric Cardiologist fellow 5 years ago when my plans went awry. I had just finished 20 years of schooling, and 3 years of pediatric residency to fulfill my dream of becoming a pediatric cardiologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, a very long-term plan. While on call one night, I felt a little tired and a was a little short of breath after climbing a flight of stairs to my office, so I decided to perform an echocardiogram, an ultrasound examination of the heart, on myself. I found unexpected fluid around my heart, which was strange since I had never been sick in my life. In fact, I was the perfect doctor because I rarely seemed to catch illnesses from my patients.
Because of the fluid in my heart, I decided to take myself to the ER. It was a good thing that I did because I went into cardiac arrest 6 hours after I performed the echocardiogram on myself. At that point, I underwent emergent treatment and a med-flight to the Cleveland Clinic. Upon arriving there, I arrested a few more times and my heart could not be shocked into working order again. To save my life, I was brought to the operating room to have a BiVAD placed to keep me alive until a lifesaving heart could be found to transplant. Since I essentially did not have a heart anymore, I lived in the ICU until I heard the news a heart had been found for me. It had been about a week since the time I was completely normal to finding out I would die without a heart transplant.
After my lifesaving transplant, I recovered for 3 months in the hospital and 2 years on disability. I wasn’t able to practice pediatric cardiology anymore due to the activity and risk of infection exposure. In that time I started the Have a Heart Benefit Fund with my friends. We raise between $10,000 and $20,000 each year to help fund transplant patient care, education, and research. I have always loved helping people and this has been a great way to show my gratitude to donor families as well.
I now have my heart transplant care followed at Emory in Atlanta, have gotten married, and work as a pediatrician in the neonatology department at Emory, while running the benefit. My transplant has made me a more empathetic doctor, since I can truly understand what it feels like to be a patient. It has also made me live life to the fullest even more than before and not take any of my relationships with family and friends for granted. I am forever grateful to those who give the Gift of Life.
I can’t think of a single way my life has NOT been changed by transplantation! I wake up every morning knowing that each new day is a gift, thanks to the miracle of transplantation!
When I opened my eyes following my kidney transplant, I had never felt more alive!
Before this life-changing day of August 13, 2002, my body had been on a battlefield since the age of 5, fighting against seizures, scoliosis surgery, diagnosis of polycystic kidney disease (PKD) at 10, pancreatitis, eleven months in the hospital where both kidneys were removed at 19, seven months of dialysis, congenital anomaly, and more than 70 blood transfusions. I won the war the day I received my kidney transplant. Over 40 inches of scars on my body prove that the scars from our past are the lifelines to our future.
Transplantation has a life-changing, domino effect on so many people besides the recipient. I love my transplanted kidney because it has given me life and the opportunity to help others improve their lives. In 2008, my award-winning biography, titled “My Favorite American,” was published. It’s opened doors and enabled me to help educate the world about PKD and organ transplantation.
My new kidney is responsible for my quest to help find a cure for PKD! After my transplant I developed a passion to raise awareness of PKD and organ donation. In 2004, I founded the South Central PA Chapter of the PKD Foundation. In addition to working full-time, I held monthly meetings, organized annual fundraising walks, educational seminars, spoke at PKD Conventions, raised funds to support PKD research, and helped raise awareness on the local, state, and federal levels. As an avid public speaker, my life mission is to educate and inspire, one speaking engagement at a time. I’ve shared my message of hope at over 70 events and to more than 5,000 people from Toronto to Texas and Pennsylvania to California!
My kidney has taught me many valuable lessons, including: Follow your dreams! This year, my boyfriend and I embarked on a cross-country adventure by moving from PA to CA. In four weeks we drove 6,300 miles and visited national parks, historical sites, large cities, and quaint towns. I’ll always treasure these memories because illness in my youth prevented me from travel. We arrived at our new home in Auburn, CA, on June 1, 2010. For me, this move is a powerful statement that one can live a fulfilling life, post-transplant, and with an incurable disease like PKD.
My “gift” taught me:
I’m a survivor, and know that there will be other battles ahead that I am determined to face and conquer. I’m grateful for every new day with my “gift,” and hope that “she” will be with me for a long time, helping me spread hope and inspiration!
Be careful what you wish for!
At nine when my best friend broke her arm, I wanted to be the one to sit out of gym class. When my twin sister broke her pinky, I wanted the attention she got. I have always wanted to be the center of attention and would have done anything to be. So, here’s a little secret; when I was nine, I wanted to break something, or get sick. Every night I’d look out my window and wish. Yes, wish for something to happen, so that I wasn’t invisible. I wanted to be different.
I don’t know exactly when it hit me, either sometime around the 100th needle stick, or when I couldn’t go to school, when my doctor sent me to have my blood drawn for the first time, or even when I turned yellow in gym class. But eventually I learned to deal with things. When my sister said she wanted to have a transplant like me, just so she could have the candy I received in the hospital, I told her it didn’t taste that good. When I was 10, kids made fun of me. I’d gone from scrawny and normal to a girl who practically lived in the hospital, was chubby, had to take meds at school, and endure countless blood draws. I won’t lie, it hurt my feelings a lot. After one boy called me a fat dead druggy, I cried my eyes out saying I want to be normal.
Now I understand that I am. I’m a teenager who can do what everyone else can, except clean out my cat’s litter box or eat grapefruit. And, to be honest, I don’t have a problem with that. I know that I’m lucky and blessed. I’m here—your average 8th grader with a secret. When I was nine, my life was saved because a random stranger decided to give the Gift of Life. I am the little girl who made a bad wish and got what she deserved. No amount of testing could determine why my liver suddenly failed. I was perfectly healthy and had no pre-existing conditions. But I went from feeling fine except for sudden extreme jaundice, to receiving a liver transplant in exactly two weeks.
I have this little fantasy that I could be Superwoman; not afraid of anything. People always call me brave when they hear my story. I laugh to myself about that because I’m never going to be anywhere close to brave let alone a superhero. The only superheroes I’ve ever known are the people who save lives. Thanking people has always been hard for me. But, if there’s one thing that has been the most instinctual thing I’ve done, it’s this: I thank everyone who has ever signed up for organ donation, because they might save another little girl like me.
Two years ago at the age of 28, my brother and I were going through the cross-match process to donate a kidney to the greatest mother in the world. We both were matches for her and would start with me on the donor process. All the while thinking, finally I can give her a gift as valuable as she gave me ... LIFE!
As I was waiting for blood tests results, the doctor entered the room with a sad look. I could tell something was wrong. He softly spoke these words, “You can't donate.” I asked him, “Why, why can't I donate to my mom?” I wanted to donate to my mom so bad I didn't hear his next set of words, “You need a kidney as bad as your mother.” I sat there devastated, in shock and disbelief and thought, no way, they screwed up the tests, check again. My mom needed a kidney bad, and I had to do this. The test came back with the same results, 18% kidney function.
On the way home, all I could think of was, how am I going to tell my mom? Not only is she losing a donor, but now a son with the same disease she has fought so hard against. She asked, “Well, how did it go?” I responded with a head nod of disappointment and said, “I can't donate because I need a kidney as bad as you.” At that point, emotions were running pretty high, but then a sense of calmness came over us. We told each other we would get through this. It is just a bump in the road of life. It is what we do next that will give us the strength to move forward. I then told her that it looks like your other son is going to be your donor. My mom did one of the most unselfish and loving things ever. She refused to take my brother’s kidney. She told me, “I was going to need it and that your brother should be your donor. I will find one eventually.” On November 13th, 2008, my mom received a Gift of Life from her hero, her brother.
This now leads to a second hero … my brother, my best friend, but most of all, my hero. He has always been there when I needed him most, especially when my health was fading fast. He stepped up without any hesitation and was a perfect match. Nothing will ever compare to the gift he gave me on October 6th, 2009. The Gift of LIFE! I’ll never be able to repay him for the selfless gift that has given me … the opportunity to continue a full life, which would have never been possible without him.
I’m very happy to say everyone is doing great and how essential it is to our family that we talk about our experiences with others and educate them on the importance to … DONATE LIFE.