For most of my life I practiced the protocol of keeping my personal life and health struggles to myself. When you are a teacher of junior high school students that can be tough with all their constant questioning and you wanting to appear "cool". "How old are you?" "Do you have a boyfriend?" "What were you like in junior high school?" - pretty much anything that will prevent me from assigning them classwork.
I still believe there should be some separation between the two, but over the last year and some change, I have come to realize how important it is to let people in and allow them to get to know you as an individual. As well as how powerful it is to show that you are in fact human.
I was diagnosed with Lupus and Kidney Failure when I was in junior high school and was forced to go on life saving dialysis treatments 3 times a week. In 1999, two years after my diagnosis, I received a life saving kidney transplant from my mom. Unless you have experienced organ donation, it is tough to really understand how life changing it is. A life on dialysis brings many restrictions to your diet and fluid intake, having to watch certain minerals, needing an extra amount of protein, and of course the dialysis treatments that leave you feeling drained and sometimes ill and even depressed. Imagine having to deal with all that while in junior high school. It was a tough time in my life, so it's no wonder I didn't want people to know about my struggles as I grew up.
Fast forward to graduating college and graduate school with a teaching credential and a Masters in Education, I was very fortunate and got a teaching job right out of the gate. It was at my old junior high school and I couldn't have been happier. Unfortunately, that fortune didn't last long and the stress and being around so many students all the time took its tole on my health as my weak immune system just couldn't handle it.
I managed to get 6 years of classroom teaching in before I made the VERY difficult decision to take a step back and figure out a different career path. I was sick all the time and it wasn't fair to myself, the students, or the school staff to try and continue on that path. After leaving the classroom I tried several different jobs and none of them were quite the right fit for me. I realized through trial and error that I like to be in charge, I need a creative outlet and I wanted to feel like I was making a difference.
It wasn't until I decided to take a business course through Women's Economic Venture in Santa Barbara, that I thought I could actually start my own organization. It wasn't easy because my kidney transplant from my mom was slowly losing function and there was a mass slowly growing on it that was worrisome. Then in April of 2015, I came to the harsh reality that I was going to need a new transplant and I didn't have anyone close to me available to donate. At that point I took to the internet to research some options and found that people were turning to social media to find "strangers" to donate. So I started my Kidney 4 Ashley campaign.
This Kidney 4 Ashley campaign has been the turning point in my life. I was forced to tell my story if I wanted the support that I needed. As hard as it was to feel vulnerable in the beginning, I was quickly met with an outpouring of support from family, friends, friends of friends and even people I had never met. Through this campaign I discovered that a long time friend of mine, Anne Stewart, was wanting to donate a kidney to give me a second chance at life. Though she wasn't a match for me, we were able to go into the UCLA Paired Exchange Program and after several months of testing and set backs, on September 28, 2016, I received the ultimate gift - a new kidney.
I am so thankful to Anne, the individuals involved in the kidney chain and the doctors at UCLA who made my kidney transplant possible.
I am feeling great and finally have the energy, time, and focus to put 100% into Karaoke for Kidneys. I am so excited to start planning and getting my ideas in motion to help those in need. I always knew I wanted to make a difference in people's lives, but I never would've thought it would be in this way, but I couldn't be happier.
Location: Santa Barbara, CA