Ewo Harrell moved to Paris, France after graduation from Union College in NY, in hopes to gain experience for a future career in Foreign Service. But in 2011, less than a year later, Ewo became very sick and French researchers and physicians discovered she had a rare condition called “collapsing glomerulopathy” combined with lupus. The addition of lupus made the kidney disease aggressive and difficult to treat. Ewo began hemodialysis treatment indefinitely while recovering from complications from kidney failure.
Upon returning to the U.S., Ewo continued hemodialysis and began interning with the U.S. House of Representatives. In early 2012, Ewo was encouraged by her in-center social worker to apply to participate in the National Kidney Foundation’s World Kidney Day advocacy event in Washington, D.C. “The experience changed my life,” says Ewo. “I realized the power we as patients have to make a difference.”
At this event, Ewo reached out and met with others on dialysis and kidney transplants. She connected with these individuals – especially some of the younger advocates – and was excited to learn that others share her desire to live a fulfilling life despite the challenges that kidney disease often brings. Ewo attributes her participation in this NKF event as the catalyst for becoming an active NKF volunteer and advocate. Ewo has since helped facilitate kidney screenings and has spoken at various events organized by the local NKF of Florida.
In October 2012, Ewo was placed on UNOS’ transplant waiting list, but her younger sister stepped forward and was found to be a match! In July 2013, Ewo received Ayotunde’s kidney.
During National Kidney Month in March, Ewo was invited to the NKF’s First Annual Kidney Patient Summit in Washington, D.C. As someone who has participated in advocacy events before and is familiar with Congress and legislation on kidney disease, Ewo led a group of Florida advocates around Capitol Hill. With her new kidney, Ewo was able to share her new perspective as a kidney transplant recipient.
After meeting Ewo at NKF’s World Kidney Day event back in 2012, it was clear to NKF Constituent Services Director Erin Kahle that this vibrant young woman was driven to tell her story and empower others. It wasn’t until they were reunited at the Summit in 2014 that Erin realized just what challenges Ewo was privately dealing with over the past two years. “The changes in Ewo’s energy level and smile were just incredible” said Erin after seeing the new and improved kidney recipient. As if her passion and enthusiasm wasn’t clear enough before, Ewo radiated with a renewed sense of self and purpose.
Ewo recently spoke at the 29th Annual NKF Rich Salick Pro/Am Surf Festival where she was also honored as the first Rich Salick Memorial Scholarship award winner. Rich was a three-time kidney recipient (one from each of his brothers over the span of 30+ years!), who devoted his life to raising awareness, educating, and supporting those diagnosed with kidney disease. Rich passed away in 2012, but his legacy lives on in the Surf Festival that he and his twin brother Phil (his first kidney donor) started in Cocoa Beach, FL, over 29 years ago. The scholarship program was established by the NKF of Florida to recognize students who exemplify the characteristics of Rich’s active community service. Ewo is certainly deserving of this special award.
The role of advocate so clearly fits Ewo, and it has now become her career path. Ewo will be attending Brown University School of Public Health in fall 2015. She aspires to have a career in international public health, and to create a non-profit that provides scholarships, fellowships, and internships for youth with chronic illness.
In the meantime, Ewo continues to raise awareness about kidney disease, dialysis and transplant. She plans to participate in the World Transplant Games in Argentina in the summer of 2015 to showcase that transplantation works. There is no doubt that Ewo will continue sharing her vibrant smile and advocating for others affected by kidney disease.