Monday, September 15, 2008

At 25, woman has endured an organ transplant, kidney disease and much more

A picture of health
Valen Cover's resilience inspired an author to write a book about her

For the Daily Record/Sunday News, York, PA:

The smiling face on the cover of "My Favorite American" is the picture of youth and vitality.

Those who know Valen Cover also know how hard-won that seemingly easy smile is. At 25, Cover has endured an organ transplant, polycystic kidney disease (PKD), a seizure disorder, scoliosis, pancreatitis and a motorcycle accident.

But they also know that while illness has defined the Dover woman's life, it does not rule it. She continues to work fulltime, volunteer her time and champion for a cure for PKD. Perhaps most surprising, she does so with that wide smile.

Among Cover's fans is Dennis McCloskey, a Canadian writer who first interviewed her for a corporate newsletter he edits. "What impressed me most is her positive outlook on life and living," McCloskey said. "I knew a little about her. I thought if anybody had a right to be angry with the world, it's her."

McCloskey expanded the newsletter article into a magazine article, but he still couldn't get the York County girl who signed off her e-mails with a smiley face out of his mind. Already an author of eight books, McCloskey decided to pen Cover's biography. "I was pushed from the outside and pulled from the inside."

Cover said she's excited to share her story, but supplying the memories for McCloskey's research was sometimes painful.

"Reliving the pain that my parents went through was difficult," said Cover, whose health issues began with seizures as a young child and progressed to kidney failure in her late teens. "I feel like I'm making my parents proud. I'm actually just so excited that the whole world gets to know how great my parents are. I always tell my parents that I wasn't blessed with great health, but I was with great parents."

McCloskey agrees that while Cover is the book's star, her parents are the heroes. Pam and Bill Cover shared their meticulous records, from Valen's hospital stays to her middle-school poetry, with the author.

McCloskey has got an eye for detail, and locals will find many familiar backdrops to Cover's story: Three Mile Island, Masa and Charlie Brown restaurants, West York Middle School and more.

Much of Cover's story is shared through vignettes about those who have inspired her along the way: her parents, an elderly neighbor, a co-worker with cancer, physicians at Johns Hopkins. While some of these supporting players appear throughout "My Favorite American," others, such as a nurse who was able to take a blood sample on the first try despite having only one hand, flit momentarily in the slim book's pages.

"I just wanted people to know the whole person," McCloskey said. "If I just wrote about her when she was 19 and had the transplant, they wouldn't know about the whole person."

And McCloskey readily admits to have fallen whole-heartedly for the whole person. He said he and his wife, Kris McCloskey, think of Cover as a daughter, and they speak or e-mail daily.

While Cover said it's amazing to have a biography written about herself at such a young age, she sees it as another way to spread the word about PKD and organ transplants. On Aug. 13, Cover celebrated six years since her best friend's mother donated her kidney, allowing her to scrape her way back toward a normal life. Cover's own kidneys were the size of footballs by the time they were removed. Normal kidneys are the size of a fist.

Transplanted kidneys don't work forever; Cover knows her health is fragile, and she makes the most of her life. Her volunteer work includes speaking at Johns Hopkins University lectures about her transplant, traveling to conferences about PKD, and founding the South Central PA Chapter of the PKD Foundation. And she plays hard, too, often on a motorcycle.

"I'm actually healthier now that I've ever been," said Cover, who is planning a local Walk for PKD on Saturday. "I think I'm normal, whatever normal means."


"My Favorite American" by Dennis McCloskey is on order at Borders Books & Music in Springettsbury Township. Call 755-0800 for availability.

It is also for sale at


Support the South Central PA Chapter of the PKD Foundation and meet Valen Cover on Saturday at the Milton Hershey School. Cover will sign and sell copies of "My Favorite American" at the chapter's Walk for PKD.

Registration starts at 9 a.m., with the walk beginning at 10 a.m. For details, go to and search for South Central PA Walk for PKD.


Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic disease affecting 1 in 500 people that causes liquid-filled cysts to grow on the kidneys. It also affects other organs, such as the liver, spleen and pancreas. The disease is progressive, with some patients not having any symptoms until late in life, while others are diagnosed much earlier.

To find out more, go to


Talus, a therapeutic salon, is helping to raise funds for the PKD Foundation. During September it will donate a portion of all its services to the PKD Foundation.

Valen Cover's biography is also available for purchase at Talus for $20.

To donate, make checks payable to PKD Foundation and mail to Talus at 1288 Green Springs Drive, York, PA 17402. Or drop it off at Talus' front desk.

“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”

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