Each year at our national gala, The Hope Affair, the American Kidney Fund (AKF) honors a “Hero of Hope” – someone living with kidney failure whose life is a testament to hope in the face of kidney disease. Here is a look back at a few of the inspirational people who have been honored by AKF as Heroes of Hope.
David began dialysis like many people do – with a “crash landing.” Feeling sick, he went to hospital where he learned his kidneys weren’t working. He began emergency dialysis immediately.
He describes himself as a less-than-ideal patient who cut treatments short or skipped them altogether. When his care team told him to plan for a short life, David got serious about his treatment and his health. He was unable to work, so he turned to AKF to help pay his Medigap insurance premiums. Relieved of the financial burden of treatment, he focused on getting into the best health possible.
David received a successful kidney transplant from a deceased donor. “I wouldn’t have been able to get my kidney transplant without the American Kidney Fund’s Health Insurance Premium Program,” he says. David does not take his good fortune lightly. He works actively to help others by mentoring and spreading awareness of kidney disease, and he is a member of AKF’s Advocacy Network.
David is also very involved with a Mid-Atlantic Renal Coalition patient engagement initiative, helping identify patient needs. He chairs a patient advocacy committee, is a medical review board member, and is an active subject matter expert on several project work groups, and an advocate and spokesperson for renal patients everywhere.
“Dave is an amazing person and a testament to others that the path you are on can be changed, no matter how far down it you have gone,” wrote a volunteer who works with David in her nomination of him for the 2016 AKF Hero of Hope award.
Angela learned her kidneys failed in an emergency room after a rapid onset of illness. When she transferred to a dialysis center, she quickly began to engage patients and staff. “I can’t be someplace without being involved,” she says. “I’m very spiritually connected to the world, to God and to people.”
She became a patient representative at her dialysis center and started a patient support group, holding monthly meetings with center staff. Angela was struck by how isolated many patients were. Many were lonely and depressed, having lost touch with friends because of the limitations imposed by their illness.
She decided to start a nonprofit—4 Kidney’s Sake!—to provide social and educational opportunities for her fellow patients. During Kidney Month, she organized a spa day that brought in 85 patients, including a woman who had not been out of her house for two years except for dialysis and medical appointments. Angela hopes to schedule at least three events a month, including outings to museums, bowling trips and educational meetings.
Because many dialysis patients struggle financially, Angela lines up local sponsors to cover most or all of the costs. “My passion has always been people and giving back,” says Angela, our 2015 Hero of Hope. “It gives me energy and makes me feel better about what’s going on, just knowing that I can see the light, the hope, in someone’s eye. Little things can change people’s lives. That’s what it’s all about.”
Artemeshia “Meshia” Adams
Meshia didn’t know she had kidney disease until a doctor visit for strep throat at age 16 uncovered severe anemia. Within a year she began dialysis, and was fortunate to receive a kidney transplant after just a few months. Fifteen years later, the kidney began to fail and Meshia experienced severe health problems, including a bout with pneumonia that nearly ended her life. She went back on dialysis.
Her husband Rodney found he was a match and donated a kidney to Meshia. His selfless gift convinced Meshia that she needed to give something back, to help others. Having experienced the fear and information overload that patients face upon learning they have kidney disease, Meshia started a website, Meshia’s Hope, to provide practical information about what to expect and to educate the public about kidney disease.
She formed a volunteer group to make quilts to keep dialysis patients warm during treatment, and brings neck pillows to make them more comfortable. She counsels new patients to help them successfully navigate their introduction to dialysis. And she advocates—on Capitol Hill and as a blogger—for public policy that supports kidney patients and transplant donors.
“I’ve always been one to help other people,” says 2014 AKF Hero of Hope Meshia. “A lot of people are hurting out there and they need someone to be supportive and empathetic to their needs.”
Though NeShell lost her battle with kidney disease two years after being named the 2013 Hero of Hope, her life continues to inspire.
NeShell experienced kidney failure when she was just 10 years old. From the beginning, she was determined not to let her disease define her and to live as normal and active a life as possible.
NeShell worked tirelessly to encourage and empower other patients at her dialysis facility to care for themselves and live their lives to the fullest. She reached out to the community at local health events and through the media to educate people about kidney disease and its leading causes, the importance of early detection, and how to prevent kidney disease. NeShell was a member of AKF’s Advocacy Network and traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with legislators and help them understand how their policy decisions affect kidney patients.
Throughout more than 30 years on dialysis, NeShell’s devout faith sustained her hopes for the future.
One of the two people who nominated NeShell described her this way: “I have been so blessed by her strength and her faith to always look for the light at the end of the tunnel. She has the courage of a lion and the gentleness of a dove.”
Eric Dolby, Sr.
Eric knows how suddenly and dramatically kidney failure can alter a life’s trajectory. Working as a nurse in Texas, in 2005 Eric found himself unemployed and homeless, on dialysis and living in his truck. He turned to AKF for financial help and eventually got back on his feet.
This experience gave Eric a new calling: bringing caring and stability into the lives of the homeless. He has helped homeless people get medical care. He spent countless hours cooking food for shelter residents and visitors, counseling and encouraging them.
Eric’s other passion is educating public officials about kidney disease. He joined AKF’s Advocacy Network in 2010, and has met with legislators in Washington and his home state of North Carolina. Our 2012 Hero of Hope “turns this disability into an ability” by educating people about causes of kidney disease and prevention.
Eric was fortunate to receive a kidney transplant in 2016 and continues his work in advocacy and kidney disease education.