At UKRO’s 2012 benefit dinner, Valen Keefer spoke to the audience about her experience with PKD and the impact that the new USC UKRO Kidney Research Center will have on patients’ lives.


Every step we have taken, every breath, every decision, moments filled with laughter, heart-wrenching tears, times we were on cloud 9, when we were fearful of the unknown, and the times we never lost hope. These snippets of our lives, while not always fully understood, can have a profound effect on our lives. Those moments have led us all to the very same room this evening for a vital cause.

As one of the 26 million people in the U.S. suffering from chronic kidney disease, I am proud to represent the kidney community on this special evening. I was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, polycystic kidney disease, PKD, when I was 10 years old. PKD is one of the most common life-threatening kidney diseases in the world. It has had a devastating impact on the lives of everyone on my mother’s side of the family. The oldest family member to survive this disease is my now 56-year-old mom. I have never met my grandmother who passed from PKD. My aunt died from it when I was 15. My brother lives with PKD, as does his 11 year-old-son. The only treatment is dialysis or transplantation. There is no cure. I am the youngest in my family to experience the severe side effects of PKD. Kidney disease has limited me from living a normal childhood. I was in and out of the hospital many times with excruciating kidney pain caused by cyst bleeds.  Two months into college I had my worst cyst bleed, complicated by pancreatitis, which ultimately led to the demise of my kidneys, resulting in a bilateral nephrectomy. After a year in the hospital, eight months on dialysis and more than 70 blood transfusions, I needed a kidney transplant to survive. Tonight marks 10 years and four months since my health was restored (clapping)—Thank you—when I was given the priceless gift of a new kidney from a living donor, a gift that keeps on giving. It truly is the gift of life. Through all this adversity, there was one thing that was not taken from me and that was hope.

Tonight is a very hopeful evening for those suffering from chronic kidney disease. Lives will change thanks to the establishment of the USC UKRO Kidney Research Center at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. I want to thank and commend the dedication and commitment of everyone in this room who will help to make this the preeminent kidney research center in the western United States. I look at this as not only a kidney research center, but also a center of hope. My hope is that others won’t have to suffer from kidney disease like my family and I have, and my dream is to live to see the day that treatments and cures are found for kidney diseases. I am alive today thanks to the advancements in modern medicine. I believe this research center will help turn the seemingly impossible into the possible. The lives of kidney patients will improve dramatically with every dollar raised, with each grant funded, and with all the research that will be conducted. It is said that every journey begins with the smallest step. This step by USC and UKRO is a giant leap that is certain to lead toward a cure to kidney disease. Thank you all very much.