On May 15, 2023, the day had arrived for my flight to Washington, D.C. I was selected as an Ambassador for the American Kidney Fund (AKF)'s 2023 Kidney Action Summit on Capitol Hill and I was very excited and ready for a mini vacation from Georgia, where I live. My mentor and good friend Tamara Walker – also an AKF Ambassador – encouraged me to apply for this year's summit, and while she wasn't able to attend herself, I had good company during this day of action.
The next day, I was ready for our day of training, preparation and learning about the workings of Capitol Hill and AKF. The Ambassadors were given time to practice telling our stories to our senators and representatives about how kidney disease has affected our lives. Although I am used to storytelling because I advocate, educate and volunteer with Life Link of Georgia, I needed a little more practice to make sure my story would resonate with the legislation we were working to garner support for, the Living Donor Protection Act. I was also introduced to my two AKF staff guides, Joy and Lauren, who would accompany me to my meetings on Capitol Hill, and to Georgia state Sen. John Albers, an AKF Ambassador and living kidney donor for his son, who would join me for one of my meetings.
In the evening, a reception and dinner tour were scheduled for the Ambassadors. Our bus tour guide was excellent in educating us about all the amazing landmarks and monuments in Washington, D.C., inspiring me to plan a vacation trip back to our nation's capital to visit some of those landmarks.
On May 17, the Ambassadors headed to Capitol Hill for our day of action. My first meeting was with the legislative correspondent (LC) for Sen. Jon Ossoff. I was nervous, but the LC was very easy to talk to and already familiar with the Living Donor Protection Act. My second meeting was with the legislative aide for Sen. Raphael Warnock. This meeting also went well, and I got better at telling my kidney disease story. The third meeting of the day was with the office assistant for Rep. David Scott. State Sen. Albers was able to join this meeting and he spoke from the perspective of a living donor while I spoke as a kidney disease patient – and Joy and Lauren had our backs! My fourth and final meeting was with the legislative assistant for Rep. Rich McCormick. It was interesting to find out Rep. McCormick was previously an emergency room doctor and had likely seen people crash into kidney failure. By 2:30 p.m., my meetings were complete, and we headed back to the hotel after an incredible day advocating for the kidney disease community.
Overall, this was a wonderful experience that I will never forget. Truly, it was an experience of a lifetime. I would encourage everyone to apply and take part. Being the face of kidney disease and telling my story is what will pass laws. Thank you, American Kidney Fund, for this opportunity to go to Capitol Hill, represent you and tell my story.
To learn more about becoming an AKF Ambassador and getting involved in AKF's Advocacy Network, visit https://bit.ly/AKFAdvocacyNetwork.
Shante Byrd is a 14-year kidney disease patient and AKF Ambassador.