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Kelli Sewell from Detroit’s East Side has survived the pandemic and her husband Anthony’s death and is now surviving kidney disease thanks to a kidney transplant in June 2017. Having successfully raised three sons, one with sickle cell disease, on her own, Kelli says she doesn’t waste any time feeling sorry for herself. In fact, she turns those negative feelings into action.

Kelli, who is in her early 50s, enrolled in the Dorsey School of Nursing last November to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse. Even though the online course is “extra accelerated, extra hard” (Kelli’s description), she felt it was right thing to do while she was home during the lockdown. “I had children when I was younger so, if not now, when?” Kelli asks.

Kelli was diagnosed with kidney disease at age 39, a result of having both diabetes and hypertension in her 20s. Neither disease was controlled while she was busy working and raising her children. She also had no symptoms warning her that her kidneys were failing, a common issue with kidney disease. She went on the kidney transplant waiting list in April 2011 and started home peritoneal dialysis (PD) in March 2012, involving her whole family in her care.

“My family didn’t understand about kidney disease, so I had to teach them what I was going through. For example, I cooked one meal that followed the diet I could eat and if anyone wanted anything else, they were on their own.” Her family included her husband, mom, sons, and her friends. “I did everything they told me to do so that when that kidney came, I would be in the best shape,” Kelli explains.

Kelli experienced a few hiccups along the way, including a bout of peritonitis and problems with the PD catheter in her abdomen. During these tough times, she received hemodialysis at a center for three months. She remained proactive about her care. “I never stay in a dark place for long,” she says.

After her transplant, her mom cared for Kelli while she recovered. Part of that recovery included reaching out to Patient Services at the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan (NKFM), where she found support and resources. Kelli completed NKFM’s Kidney PATH eight-week workshop, learning to manage life after a transplant, and then trained to be a Kidney PATH instructor and a peer mentor, someone who educates and supports people newly diagnosed with kidney disease. She also staffed several health fairs as an NKFM volunteer.

“At the end of the day, life just keeps moving. And I keep moving with it,” Kelli says with a smile. “I’m used to being busy — I am a mom, a grandmom, have a kidney transplant, the list goes on. I do a lot; I go through a lot but I can handle a lot.”

Kelli Sewell