I didn’t know beans about my kidneys until the fall of 2009, when I found out that they had failed. Kidney disease often has no symptoms, and years of bad habits — like smoking and not eating right — had finally caught up to me in a big way. I had to start dialysis (a life-saving procedure that does most of what kidneys do) right away.

The battle with dialysis

The first six months of dialysis were not pretty. I felt miserable, and I let the whole world know it. I skipped many of my dialysis sessions, and that’s the dumbest thing I could have done.

In April 2010, the staff at my dialysis clinic met with me and told me that I wouldn’t be around very long if I didn’t get my act together. It was tough hearing that. I went home and thought about what they told me, and realized that I was letting my pride keep me from making the right choices.

I started going to every dialysis appointment, and started to feel better both physically and mentally weeks later. In a few months, I was feeling positive about life again, and decided to make some lifestyle changes the following year.

In 2011, I stopped smoking, began exercising every day, and became really serious about getting healthy again. And when I saw how my new attitude and lifestyle improved my quality of life, I thought, “Why not do the same thing for other people in this situation?”

“I started speaking up for other kidney warriors by lobbying for kidney disease awareness and funding on Capitol Hill”

A kidney warrior

I started speaking up for other kidney warriors by lobbying for kidney disease awareness and funding on Capitol Hill and by joining every patient support group that I could join.

I also decided to see if I was a good candidate for a kidney transplant, and got on the national transplant waiting list in early 2012. After more than three years of waiting, I received the gift of life from a deceased donor on June 28, 2015, and I named my donated kidney “Hercules.”

I’ve learned how important it is to live healthy and get regular checkups, and how important it is to get help when you need it. Thanks to the help of others, I now pay my good fortune forward by being the best advocate for kidney disease awareness and prevention that I can be.

And I learned to love my kidneys.