My name is Helen and I’m a ‘Puzzle Baby.’ Twenty-three years ago I was born with VATER’S Syndrome. My internal organs were all mixed up. Doctors had to connect them during countless surgeries, including open heart surgery at the age of four. We always knew a kidney transplant was ahead for me. The day after my 19th birthday I began dialysis.

As my friends headed off to college, I went to dialysis. I was tethered to a machine three hours a day Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I’m grateful dialysis exists, but it is a very difficult way to live. The last 12 months were the hardest for me. I was hospitalized frequently with new infections.

On Nov. 29, 2006, my friends and I got to together to celebrate reaching the halfway mark of a very tough week. They always have helped buoy my spirits. That evening we made a toast to a new kidney for me. Three hours later my call came for a transplant. On Dec. 1 around midnight I received the most incredible gift — a new kidney. It has transformed my life and I will forever be grateful to my donor. Someday I hope to meet his family and thank them in person.

For the first time in my life I can dare to hope. Dare to dream of a future for me. I now attend college, majoring in Hotel Tourism Management. I plan to visit the far-off places with my best friend that could have never been a reality while I was in kidney failure.

Yes, there is life after transplant — a healthy life. My family comes from Vietnam. I love letting the Asian community know we have the power give others a second chance at life.

Sometimes I look back on my life and know that all the hardships I experienced have given me the strength to persevere. My kidney is a precious gift. I have chosen to use my experience to make a difference and I have found my passion and calling.