A STORY OF HOPE: A LIFE OF TRIUMPH
by Valen (Cover) Keefer
From birth, Valen Keefer has faced a challenging medical heritage. Everyone on her mother’s side has polycystic kidney disease (PKD), a condition in which fluid-filled cysts grow on the kidneys, gradually causing them to lose function. At age 57, Valen’s mom has lived the longest of anyone. Grandmother, aunt, cousins—all have died from PKD, and both Valens brother and his son also have it. Of everyone, however, Valen is the youngest to endure such severe side effects from the disease. From age five, she battled through seizures, scoliosis surgery, pancreatitis, a congenital anomaly, bilateral nephrectomy, dialysis and more than 70 blood transfusions—until finally, on August 13, 2002, she became the first in her family to receive a life-saving kidney transplant.
Today, Valen is a 30-year-old woman with a passion to educate and inspire. Her threefold mission is to increase the public’s understanding of the importance of research into kidney disease, to promote organ donation, and to help spread awareness of PKD, one of the most common life-threatening genetic diseases in the world. It affects more people—600,000 Americans and 12.5 million individuals worldwide—than cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, sickle-cell anemia, and Down syndrome combined. There is no cure. Dialysis and transplantation are the only treatment options, and those who suffer from it have a 50 percent chance of passing it on to their children.
Though Valen now lives in Auburn, California, she founded the South Central Pennsylvania chapter of the PKD Foundation and has organized numerous PKD fundraising walks and educational seminars. An accomplished public speaker, she shares her message of hope through her award-winning biography, My Favorite American, to audiences throughout North America.
Her altruistic efforts have earned many accolades and awards, including:
- 2012 Sierra Donor Services Outstanding Media Ambassador Award
- Selected by Donate Life as one of the 12 Inspiring Women of “20 Million in 2012”
- Appointed a national spokesperson for UKRO (University Kidney Research Organization), 2011
- 1st place winner of the Renal Support Network’s Annual KidneyTimes Essay Contest, 2011
- Selected as winner of nationwide 2011 Astellas “Ride of a Lifetime” Rose Parade Contest, 2010
- Recipient of the Susan P. Byrnes Health Education Center “Celebration of Life Award,” 2009
- Selected as the “Smart Woman” for Smart Magazine, 2009
- Subject of award-winning biography, My Favorite American, by Dennis McCloskey, 2008
- Recipient of the following Dale Carnegie Course Awards: Human Relations, Human Relations Champion, Outstanding Performance, and Highest Award for Achievement, 2008
- Campaign Chair for the PKD Foundation’s “Campaign for a Cure,” raising over $1,000,000, 2005–2006
- Nominated for, received the most votes in a nationwide contest, and named the first-ever DaVita ‘Kidney Idol,’ 2005
- Chapter and Walk Coordinator for the South Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the PKD Foundation, raising more than $100,000, 2004–2007
- Founder of the South Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the PKD Foundation, 2004
Because so many members of Valen’s family have been affected by PKD, she has developed a strong connection with those who endure the pain and suffering caused by every form of kidney ailment. Her captivating and powerful journey proves that one can live a fulfilling life post-transplant and while still managing an incurable kidney disease. Her story also showcases the vital need for research to put an end to kidney disease.
“Valen Keefer inspired and motivated a room full of Dale Carnegie instructors. She impressed all present and is a very gifted speaker with a fantastic story of courage and triumph over adversity. Valen manages to intertwine humor with disaster, happiness with anger, and courage with fear as she presents her heart-gripping life story of survival. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and considering the group she was addressing, that was quite a feat.”
—Buddy Bresnick, Partner, Dale Carnegie Training