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Kayla, Kidney Recipient

As a Two-Time Kidney Recipient, Kayla Jenkins Owes Her Life to Donors

After a brief bout with E. coli, Kayla Jenkins should have been on the road to recovery. But her symptoms gradually worsened. After many tests and consultations with various types of doctors, a nephrologist confirmed that she had focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a hereditary disease that affects your kidneys. Because the disease had progressed enough, both of her kidneys would need to be removed, and a transplant was her only option for survival. 

Jenkins went from being a happy-go-lucky nine-year-old to needing to be on dialysis awaiting a life-saving kidney transplant. “I went to school only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and that was if I felt well enough to go on Thursday,” she said. “I couldn’t eat the things other kids eat or play the games they got to play. It’s like I was always watching from afar. And my teachers and friends did their best but there’s only so much you can do to make someone feel included.” 

Jenkins got her first kidney transplant in August 2013. For about eight years, the kidney did very well. But after a routine sinus infection, a nurse accidentally over prescribed an antibiotic that caused Jenkin’s donated kidney to shut down. She found herself on the sidelines of life again doing dialysis for the next year and a half. In 2021, she got her second kidney, which she’s had for a little more than two years and affectionately says “is a good one”.  

Even though Jenkins has not had contact with either of her donor families, she wants them to know how grateful she is for the second chance at a normal life. “Losing the first kidney was sad for me,” she said. “Even though there wasn’t anything I could do, it was disappointing to think of the family who gave me the kidney. I did my best to take care of it and make sure I was healthy. But having a kidney for eight years, especially for how young I was at the time, is a really big deal.”  

One of the ways she hopes to give back is by volunteering with Legacy of Hope and sharing her story to inspire others to consider organ donation. Major health disparities exist among diverse communities when it comes to donation and transplantation. African Americans make up the largest group of minorities in need of an organ transplant. And the National Kidney Foundation reports Black Americans are almost three times more likely to experience kidney failure compared to white Americans. 

Of the almost 1,200 people waiting for an organ transplant in Alabama, about 85 percent of them are in need of a kidney. And over 60 percent of those waiting for a kidney in Alabama are Black. 

Jenkins hopes to be part of the solution.

 “I like talking with people and sharing my story,” she said. “Especially with people who may be going through something similar.” Jenkins said since becoming an ambassador, she’s learned even more about the mission. “There were things that even I didn’t know before, which is very cool. Now I can talk to people who may have doubts or worries, and even if they don’t immediately say ‘yes’ to signing up, they have the option and the information to back up their decision.” 

Jenkins acknowledges that registering as an organ, eye and tissue donor is a personal decision. “Everyone is allowed to have their own belief,” she added. “Speak to people you know, doctors, or others in your community that you feel safe confiding in. Make sure the decision is true to yourself and that you’ll have no regrets. Talk it through with your support system and then come to the decision on your own terms.” 

For everything that Jenkins went through, she feels so grateful to those who supported her. “I had a really great support system, and without it, I probably would have crumbled,” she said.

Nowadays, Jenkins is reveling in her newfound freedom living life fully and no longer from the sidelines. “I owe my life to both of my donor families.”   

When we think of a way to celebrate Black History Month, organ donation is not typically the first thing that comes to mind. And yet, this Black History Month, you can help improve the chances for diverse communities by encouraging more people of color to register as organ, eye and tissue donors. By changing the conversation around organ donation, you can bring much-needed awareness to diverse communities.

More Stories of Hope

Register to be an Organ, Eye and Tissue Donor

More than 100,000 people are waiting for a life-saving transplant. Transplants rely on the generosity of organ, eye and tissue donors, and there are not enough donors to meet the need. You can help.