Coming full circle in my journey with kidney disease and AKF
On the night of October 17, 2012, at the age of 7, my life changed forever. It was the night I was honored at the American Kidney Fund’s (AKF) annual gala, The Hope Affair, as that year’s Calendar Kids Art Contest winner. My artwork received the most votes in this nationwide contest, meaning my drawing appeared on the cover of AKF’s 2013 calendar. For winning the contest, I received a trip to Washington, D.C. to attend AKF’s gala with my family.
I vividly remember staring at the ceiling when I first walked into the auditorium where The Hope Affair took place and thinking, Wow! I must be dreaming. What did I do to deserve this? There was beauty all around, and the evening was full of incredible and motivating speeches from people passionate about helping patients with kidney disease. Although I don’t remember word-for-word what was said that night, I do remember a promise I made to myself during The Hope Affair—when I got older I had to be like those people and do something to help this cause that has completely changed my life.
Although my experience at The Hope Affair eight years ago was incredibly inspiring and transformational, an unfortunate series of events led to me qualifying for the Calendar Kids Art Contest in the first place. At the age of 2, my kidneys failed because of an infectious syndrome called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). The specialists at my hospital had not seen a case of it in years. I was admitted through the emergency room with pneumonia and confusing labs, which puzzled my doctors, although they were certain that my kidneys were failing. HUS can cause kidney disease, kidney failure and even death. Luckily for me, a diagnosis was made quickly and treatment was started immediately. I would undergo four months of dialysis before receiving a successful kidney transplant. Twelve years later, my life is amazing. I have had lots of monitoring, lab work and my share of complications along the way, but I know how lucky I am to be here today.
Fast forward to 2020—I was scrolling through Instagram on my bus ride home from school when I came across a post from AKF about becoming an AKF Ambassador. I looked up more information about the Ambassador program on AKF’s website and thought, I can totally do this. I told my mom all about it and she agreed that I was ready to join the fight against kidney disease.
After officially becoming an Ambassador, I signed up to participate in AKF’s annual Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill and was accepted! Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. I was upset that I would not be able to travel to Washington again, but soon learned that AKF was adapting their in-person event to a virtual advocacy day. I was very excited to still get the opportunity to participate and advocate to my lawmakers on behalf of kidney patients in my home state of New Jersey and across the country. I feel like my experience during the virtual advocacy day made a real difference in the lives of people with kidney disease.
I was still buzzing with excitement a few days after the advocacy day, when I received an email from AKF. They wanted me to attend The Hope Affair again this year—this time as a former Calendar Kid and current Ambassador—so I could introduce and honor the winner of this year’s Calendar Kids Art Contest! What an incredible opportunity and a tremendous honor to be asked. With humble excitement and joy, I told them, “YES!” I look forward to presenting Khloe Sudol, whose artwork will appear on the cover of the 2021 calendar, with this distinguished award. Though this year’s The Hope Affair has also gone virtual due to COVID-19, I hope Khloe’s experience during the event is as blessed and magical as mine was back in 2012.
From a former AKF Calendar Kid, to a high school student and new AKF Ambassador helping in the fight against kidney disease, to the presenter of this year's AKF Calendar Kids Art Contest winner, I have now come full circle in my journey with kidney disease and with AKF. I understand the importance of AKF and am excited to keep working with them to make a difference in the lives of those of us living with kidney disease, as well as the loving support networks who are with us every step of the way.