Tracey Schrader has been playing video games since she discovered Atari at age seven. These days, she enjoys losing herself in Minecraft. "It's a such a pretty world," she says, "I just love it." But livestream gaming not only gives Tracey a chance to laugh and unwind with friends — it also helps her raise money for the American Kidney Fund's (AKF) programs and services, which in turn help people with kidney disease like her.
Tracey is the current recordholder for the most money raised through livestreaming on KidneyNation, AKF's do-it-yourself fundraising program. AKF helps people organize their own fundraising "streamathons," and 97 cents of every dollar they raise goes right back to helping the kidney community. Tracey's latest fundraiser brought in over $1,300, exceeding its goal.
Before Tracey got a kidney transplant, she used to receive financial assistance from AKF to help her afford the high costs of dialysis under two insurance plans. She had been a nanny for 13 years, but could not continue her work while undergoing intensive dialysis treatments multiple times a week, which left Tracey and her husband, Frank, with only one income. Tracey says she does not know what they would have done without AKF's help if they had to pay out-of-pocket for her full medical costs.
When Tracey found out about KidneyNation's Streamers vs. Kidney Disease events, she "felt very passionate" and knew she had to participate. She worked hard to organize her own streaming event and brought in guests for her fundraiser, many of whom couldn't afford to donate large amounts, especially during the financial strain of the COVID-19 pandemic. She says she's happy to fundraise "dollar-by-dollar," knowing that even one donated dollar per person goes a long way. "I was like a bulldog," she said, speaking of her determination to see the fundraiser through.
Tracey's own battle with kidney disease and her path to getting a transplant was not easy. She spent over seven years on dialysis, starting at age 39, and was rejected by two hospitals for a kidney transplant after being deemed a high-risk patient. At one point, she gave up hope that she would ever receive a kidney.
"My family and friends got me through everything," she says, remembering the dedication of her husband, who she relied on for emotional and financial support, and who even sat with her for hours during many of her dialysis sessions after a long day's work. Her supportive friends would come over to help her keep her house clean and stocked with groceries. Her mother, Ursula, and sister, Lisa, were also there for her emotionally and pitched in to help with treatments. Tracey says that without Lisa, who always encouraged her to stay on the kidney transplant waiting list and not give up hope, she "wouldn't be alive today."
When Tracey finally received the call letting her know that it was her turn for a transplant, she didn't believe it at first. The staff members at her dialysis center learned of the news before she did, and when several of them congratulated her, she didn't know what they meant. "You were accepted!" they said, "we got the fax this morning."
Because of cardiovascular issues, Tracey's transplant was considered a little high risk, but her doctors and family members encouraged her to go through with the surgery. Her transplant was successful, but it took nearly eight months before she felt well enough to resume everyday life. "It was a long process," she says, "but I got there."
Tracey still thinks about people struggling on dialysis, especially those who lack the strong family support that kept her fighting during the hardest times. Her livestream fundraisers were inspired by her desire to give back to the kidney community. But they are also a rowdy celebration of her life with her good friends. "My livestreams aren't always family-friendly," she jokes. "I have a mouth on me!"