‘I’m Just Very Lucky to Be Alive’: Strive’s Senior Technology Product Manager Shares Her Kidney Transplant Story

Author : Strive Health

Aja Best, Strive Health’s Senior Technology Product Manager, was diagnosed with stage 3 chronic kidney disease (CKD) in 2016, after giving birth to her daughter. Over the next two years, she progressed to stage 5 CKD, then crashed into dialysis in November of 2018. After getting on the transplant list and several years of waiting, she finally received her new kidney in 2020.

In her role at Strive, she utilizes data from patient-facing systems to recommend strategic technological solutions that ultimately make it easier for Strive’s clinicians to serve patients and help them live their best lives.

We recently sat down with Aja to learn more about her kidney transplant story.

Q: Why do you Strive?

A: As a kidney transplant recipient and former dialysis patient, I understand how costly the current gaps in kidney care can be (financial and otherwise). Those gaps can be filled through value-based care to improve the quality of life for CKD and end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) patients.

Q: How has your life been impacted since your surgery in 2020?

A: I think the biggest change has been not fearing death daily and being able to do normal everyday activities with my daughter. I was attached to a machine every night in order to survive, so the freedom that came after surgery was life changing. Now I can travel freely; I don’t have to stress about bringing my machine, supplies, medications and requests for special accommodation everywhere. I’m just lucky to be alive, so I’m still transitioning into normal life. Because I was in survival mode for so long, I hadn’t mourned the traumatic experience until after my surgery. It felt like my life was on hold for three years, awaiting death while I did my best to care for my daughter.

Q: What was your biggest concern going into surgery?

A: My biggest fear was that the kidney wasn’t going to take, that I’d gotten too sick to accept a matched kidney and that I would wake up and they would say, “You’re back to dialysis and back to waiting an unknown amount of time to get a kidney.”

Q: What was the most challenging part of your transplant experience?

A: Because I got my transplant during the height of COVID-19, it was hard to not have my family with me during recovery.

Q: What was your recovery journey like?

A: I recovered amazingly. The outpouring of support was incredible. My face and skin looked instantly different. One of the medications gave me so much energy and, since I was on leave from work, I was able to finish around 10 house projects that I had been wanting to get around to for years.

One of the medications also increases your appetite significantly, so my family was shocked to see me eating more than just fruit or a bite of fish. I couldn’t drive or lift anything during recovery, but these restrictions were no different than they had been when I was on dialysis.

Q: Are you still in touch with your donor?

A: Yes, we’re great friends. We recovered in the hospital together. She is doing great! She’s perfectly healthy and lives life how she always had. We volunteered together at the Transplant Games in 2022 and talk frequently. Although she lives about a 4-hour drive away, we try to see each other a couple times a year.

Q: How does your transplant experience impact your work at Strive?

A: This is not just a job to me. I am able to connect to the patient experience side, so I help align the tech side to directly improve that experience. 

Q: What would you say to others waiting for a transplant today?

A: Ask everyone. Post on forums, ask family members, get a magnet and put it on your car, make custom T-shirts — do really anything you can think of to share your story. While you’re waiting, become your own patient advocate. Learn about your disease and challenge doctors to answer questions that speak to your specific experience as a CKD patient. We all deserve the best care possible, and sometimes that requires a bit of individualization and deviating from the basic standard of care. Document your experience and, if you have the energy, you could volunteer for a kidney care association. I am currently a National Kidney Foundation patient advocate.

Read More About Kidney Donation and Kidney Transplant on StriveHealth.com:

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