2017 Sonia Isabel Valencia


Kidney Donor

Age 35 ~ Los Angeles, CA

8th Grade English Language Arts Teacher, Rosemead School District

Honored by OneLegacy at onelegacy.org

Sonia Isabel Valencia was diagnosed with Berger’s disease, a disease that, overtime, hampers the ability to filter waste in blood causing one’s kidneys to fail. While on peritoneal dialysis, she bumped into Celia Contreras as she walked into her nephrologist’s office. Sonia’s hopes were bleak, and just after a few exchanging of words, Celia took the initiative and followed all the procedures for a kidney donor. Unfortunately, they were not a match. However, the Nick Damon UCLA kidney donor chain allowed Calia to donate to someone else, and in return, allowed another, more compatible kidney available for Sonia. Sonia met her new donor, Jeannie Chung, the day after her surgery, and she coins that moment indescribable as she not only knew one, but two saviors during her time of need.

Sonia’s Story

At an early age of 12, I was diagnosed with a rare kidney condition called IGA Nephropathy, also known as Berger’s disease, a kidney disease that overtime, hampered my kidneys’ ability to filter waste in my blood.

Consequently, this disease caused my kidneys to fail. February of 2003, I started dialysis. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was infected with peritonitis. While on peritoneal dialysis, I walked into my nephrologist office and bumped into Celia Contreras, a woman that I had met only a few times at a BBQ and who later on would be my savior. As she walked out, holding the door for me, she asked, “How are you?” My reply was, “I don’t think I’m going to make it,” as I felt the pain of the peritonitis getting worse.

Doctor’s said I came just in time; I could have died that day. But little did I know, that day, my words would inspire Celia to want to donate her kidney to me. She took the initiative and followed all of the procedures for a kidney donor work up at UCLA. However, after all the testing, they told us that we weren’t a match. Once again, my heart dropped as I heard the news. The only hope of becoming unhinged from the 10 hours a night that I had to be connected to my dialysis machine was lost.

I was wrong. I got a call from Dr. Veale asking me if I would like to participate in a kidney donor chain, in which Celia would give her kidney to someone else and in return, I’d receive a kidney from another person that is a better match for me. Of course, I agreed and Celia agreed as well.

I was part of the Nick Damon UCLA kidney donor chain in 2009. I met my donor Jeannie Chung the day after my surgery, as she came in wearing her hospital gown. I can’t even describe how I felt as I met this beautiful stranger who saved my life walk towards my hospital bed. I was in disbelief. Not only did I have one savior, but rather two: Celia Contreras and Jeannie Chung. However, none of this would have happened without Harry Damon, an altruistic kidney donor who started the chain, which involved about 18 families who passed on the gift of life.

Sadly, my story now continues as after almost 8 years of wearing Jeannie’s kidney, scar tissue has caused it to begin failing and I’m back on the UNOS kidney transplant waiting list. In L.A the current wait time for a patient like me, is 6-8 years. I haven’t started dialysis yet, but the doctor’s has already placed a fistula for hemodialysis on my left arm as a safety measure because, as one doctor said, “I don’t have a crystal ball as to when your transplanted kidney will fail.”

Unlike dialysis, which is a routine of different types of machines used to survive, kidney transplantation is a treatment that allows people to live a better quality of life.