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Two-Time Kidney Transplant Survivor Stands Tall

Quandra Lee was only 17 years old when she underwent her very first kidney transplant. The native Washingtonian was fortunate to have her mother donate a kidney in 1991, which allowed her to embark on a successful career as a professional makeup artist and esthetician. A decade later, Lee experienced complications from the transplant — forcing her back into the emergency room faced with kidney failure. The saving grace of a second kidney donor and a renewed sense of purpose has catapulted Lee into her wildest dreams. The Informer sat down with Lee to discuss life post-transplant and how she lives her best life.

How are you doing today? How is life amid COVID-19, and post-second transplant?
“Life is crazy! Just getting used to the [new] norm is really the challenge. Knowing what to do, and how to do it, especially when concerning my health. I got sick at 17, so I’m kind of like an O.G. in the situation now *laughs*. I’m a very clean person, I know what works, and what doesn’t work for me, so when this [COVID] came about, wearing a mask [and taking other precautions] was like, “okay, what else”, because I’m always making sure I’m okay.”

When did it become apparent to you that you were having recurring kidney issues?
Well, I actually got sick on my honeymoon. So, my kidney failed in 2001. Eventually, I was on hemodialysis. I didn’t know how it would go, but I just felt that this wasn’t the way I wanted to live. I knew that wasn’t it, so I didn’t do very well with it. I was constantly sick, and frail. It just wasn’t me. I’m a very lively person, and I like to enjoy life to the fullest.

Tell me what that journey was like when you were in need of a second transplant. How did you stay positive throughout it?
“My brother-in-law had actually inquired on how someone can become a donor. I thought he was asking for informational purposes because I’m often sharing my story, so I was just casually talking to him [about the process]. So, when he came back [to me] he said, “Guess what? I’m a match!” I didn’t even know he had gone through the process. [At that point] I said, “Okay, God, I know that you really have something else for me.” It’s one thing when your mom does it, and I don’t take that for granted either because that’s my mother, but for someone not blood-related to me, [I see it as] for them to love someone so much that they wanted to give that much to my situation. It is such a blessing, and I don’t take that lightly. To this day I don’t know how I can fully express my gratitude. I’m so well, and happy, and able to be my regular self because of his grace.”

How have your dietary habits changed since? What is your eating regimen like now, and how important is dietary health to you post-transplant?
“So, you do want to eat as clean as possible, because now with me having had the kidney transplant, I have [been susceptible] to having several other conditions. Most people have other things that cause their kidneys to fail, but I just have kidney failure. Because of that, I’m more prone to the other illnesses. I’ve had Bell’s Palsy, I’ve had gout in my foot, I’ve been anemic while I’ve been sick, [and for a period of time] I was diabetic. All the other things that cause your kidneys to fail, at times I get those issues. And it won’t even be that I am doing things to cause those illnesses. They restricted me from fried foods for example, but I don’t eat fried foods. I don’t drink beer, I don’t do all of those things, it’s just a byproduct of [the kidney failure]. Because I’m mindful of those things and I keep my diet balanced, I eat as if I am a diabetic. I eat a clean diet.”

What lessons or jewels of life have become more apparent to you in the process of your kidney transplants?
“Emotionally, I always choose peace. I often go to the gym, and I even started practicing meditation. It can be difficult because I do think a lot, I am just a thinker. But what has also worked for me are e-books. I listen to the books if I cannot meditate, just to get my mind in a different space. I do have to say, my salvation, my family [has also been a key part]. I come from a very strong built family that taught me if you fall, you get back up and keep pushing forward. Don’t sit there and ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda,’ instead, get back up and do something about it. It’s kind of like failing forward and just allowing ourselves to fail. It will be okay. I’ve even had strangers say to me, ‘You don’t look like you have a care in the world,’ because I try not to carry the bag. I don’t try to be perfect I just try to be the best version of myself every day.”

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