About this Episode:

Dr. Megan Speciale talks to Valen Keefer and Dr. Cristen Wathen on the experiences and struggles of people with chronic illness and immunity suppression during the COVID-19 pandemic. The conversation explores how the pandemic is impacting immunosuppressed people and offers strategies to help support the health and wellness of your clients, loved ones, and community members who face increased risks related to COVID-19.

About Valen & Cristen:

Valen Keefer toes the line every day between survival and advocacy. At the age of 37, she is thriving thanks to two lifesaving transplants. Both were needed because of polycystic kidney disease (PKD). Valen was diagnosed with PKD at the age of 10, a genetic kidney disease which she inherited from her mother’s side of the family and has deeply impacted and taken the lives of countless family members.

Valen endured a challenging childhood full of hospital stays and cyst bleeds. After almost a year in the hospital as a teenager, both of her kidneys were removed, she was on dialysis, endured severe pancreatitis, received more than 70 blood transfusions and at the age of 19 received a life-saving kidney transplant. This second chance restored Valen’s health and gifted her the opportunity to find her purpose in life, turn her health challenges into something meaningful and be the role model she wishes she had. In her early 30s, PKD affected her liver and she became very ill again. Thankfully, at the age of 35 Valen received a life-saving liver transplant and the ability to continue doing what she loves – helping others and living life to the fullest.

Valen also has epilepsy and had severe scoliosis when she was younger, which required back surgery. She has undergone 30 surgeries over her lifetime and has more than 60 inches of scars crisscrossing her body.

Despite life challenging her at nearly every turn, Valen is determined to help others who are fated to walk a similar path. She has taken her new lease on life and is intent on paying it back tenfold. As a passionate patient advocate since 2004, she works tirelessly to raise awareness of kidney disease, PKD and organ donation and to help educate and empower the 37 million US adults with chronic kidney disease, the 12.5 million people worldwide with PKD and the 114,000 waiting for a life-saving transplant.

Grounded in gratitude, she works directly with countless patients and has shared her journey at 100 events across North America with an authentic optimism that gives people hope and moves them to action. She’s done many press interviews, coordinated educational and fundraising events and helped raise over $1,000,000 for polycystic kidney disease research. Valen has written 250 blogs (published by non-profits), painting a genuine picture of the challenges and joys of this journey. Through her collaborations with numerous organizations, she has inspired a combined total of 1.7 million social media followers with her story of hope and resilience that transforms people forever. She proves there is not just life with severe kidney disease, but potentially a great one.

Radiating light and joy, Valen has a way of connecting and touching the hearts and minds of all she meets. She inspires people past her own communities and causes and her journey has become a beacon of hope for countless people around the world. To learn more about Valen’s extraordinary medical odyssey and how she continues to bounce back and give back, visit her website at www.valenkeefer.com

Dr. Cristen Wathen is an Assistant Professor in the Counseling Department at Palo Alto University where she also serves as the residential students’ practicum coordinator. She is a licensed counselor in Idaho and Montana and has a background in working with survivors of trauma and child sexual abuse. She also has experience counseling and advising college students and working with underserved populations in educational settings. Cristen attended Baylor University for her master’s degree and Idaho State University for her Ph.D. Before joining PAU, she was an Assistant Professor at Montana State University. She served as the 2018-2019 ACES Secretary and as the president of RMACES in 2016. She is most proud of her work as a mother and is dedicating the next phase of her research and advocacy career to building mental wellness for those who experience chronic illness and their partners/caregivers.

The APA Citation for this Episode:

Speciale, M. (Producer). (2020, September 11). EP185: Living with Chronic Illness and Immunosuppression During COVID-19 – A Conversation with Valen Keefer and Cristen Wathen [Audio Podcast]. The Thoughtful Counselor. Retrieved from xhttps://wp.me/p7R6fn-XlT.

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