Appreciating Life and Giving Back: AnnMarie Link Honored by the National Kidney Foundation of Upstate and Western New York as an Outstanding Volunteer of the Year
You could say that the Link family mission today is to appreciate life and help others. However, the journey hasn’t been easy. When AnnMarie Link’s middle child, Kyle, was only a year old, he was diagnosed with cancer of the kidneys. His kidneys were removed as part of the treatment, which included a routine of chemotherapy.
For the next three years, with no kidneys, Kyle had to undergo dialysis a minimum of four times a week. His fragile body had to build strength and an immunity to the world around him before he was ready to be given a second chance at life. When Kyle was four years old his father, Larry, donated one of his kidneys to Kyle.
Today, Kyle is 18 years old – and they don’t speak of cancer anymore. The Link family is grateful every day that Larry’s kidney has allowed Kyle to progress from kindergarten through high school and on to college – just the way he was supposed to.
The way AnnMarie sees it, living organ donation and the support of the National Kidney Foundation have given her son a chance at life, and now she has an opportunity to give back. “From day one of his diagnosis we were showered with support from the community and from organizations,” she said. “We always knew when it came time for us to give back, we would know it.”
Four years ago, it was time. When AnnMarie was asked to serve as an Advisory Board Member of the Upstate and Western New York chapter of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), she asked if her son could be her co-chair. She wanted them both to give back to the organization that helped them so much, and help others whose lives are impacted by kidney disease. She also wanted her son to experience the triumphs of the many people who have fought the same battle he has.
Last month AnnMarie received an award from the NKF for being an Outstanding Volunteer of the Year. Ellen Scalzo, Executive Director of the National Kidney Foundation, is grateful for AnnMarie’s contributions. “AnnMarie’s passion for those living with kidney disease and unselfish, tireless efforts are to be commended,” she said. “We are humbled by the Link family and their generosity of spirit. We embrace all they have done and continue to do for us. They are a key piece of the puzzle!”
One of AnnMarie’s passions is to raise awareness about kidney disease and the life-saving opportunity of organ donation. “Kidney disease can affect anyone, and it is a silent disease,” she said. In addition to the support she and her family have received from the NKF, she is grateful for the support she has received from Cisco, where she works as an Operations Manager in the Americas Marketing and Communications organization. Through Cisco’s Time2Give program, she gets 40 hours of paid time to volunteer each year. Cisco benefits too: “The skills that I am gaining by being on the board – creating and implementing strategies and programs and communicating with doctors, the Kidney Foundation’s National Office, and others throughout the community – help me immensely in my role at Cisco while grounding me, personally, to balance life” said AnnMarie.
AnnMarie has learned a lot about kidney disease, and she wants to share that knowledge. Kidneys are just as vital to sustaining life as your heart. When kidneys stop functioning, dialysis or a transplant are necessary to survive. In the United States, almost 100,000 people are waiting for a kidney transplant, but only 19,000 will receive one. Over 4,000 people die each year waiting for a kidney.
Watching her son Kyle grow into a healthy young man with his own goals and aspirations has helped AnnMarie and her family value a positive attitude towards life, even on the days when it’s really hard. “Kyle still has to manage the ongoing demands of treatment and know how to properly take care of his transplant to offset any risk of rejection,” she said. “These challenges have made us appreciate life so much more – and it’s not in a silly, sappy way. I don’t think most people realize that everyone has baggage. For me and my family, well, we just choose not to carry ours.”
AnnMarie has recently increased her role in the NKF – she is now Chair of the National Kidney Foundation Board of Advisors serving Upstate and Western New York. The Links will continue to work through the National Kidney Foundation to spread the word about how the disease can be prevented and detected.
To help the Link family spread the word about kidney disease, visit http://www.kidney.org/support and enter Kyle Link as the person you are honoring. This page also explains other ways to get involved and support the cause.
Living donation makes better lives possible. To learn how, visit https://www.kidney.org/transplantation/livingdonors and follow #BigAskBigGive.