Echo Brown, author of Black Girl Unlimited, opens up about her battle with kidney failure and her hopes of getting a transplant

By Jason Duaine Hahn
May 12, 2021 03:14 PM
Advertisement
Author Echo Brown in Need of Transplant while Battling Kidney Disease
Credit: Courtesy Echo Brown

Just as the world began preparing for the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Echo Brown began the fight of her life.

While living in Paris in March of last year, Brown — author of the autobiographical novel, Black Girl Unlimited — began feeling increasingly lethargic. Brown wasn't initially worried — she had previously been diagnosed with lupus, and she believed it was simply a flare-up of the autoimmune disease.

But as the days went by, her condition continued to worsen to the point where her whole body "just started shutting down."

"I couldn't walk to the kitchen," the 37-year-old writer tells PEOPLE. "I couldn't stand up straight without being super dizzy. I was throwing up everywhere. Everything was coming out of everywhere. I stopped peeing. I just didn't realize what was happening."

A week after the first symptoms began, Brown sought answers from a doctor in France. After Brown underwent tests, the doctor sent her directly to the hospital with dire news —her kidneys were failing, and without treatment, she was only a few days from death.

"I was in a state of shock," Brown, who lives in Cleveland, says. "I was in a state of panic. I couldn't believe that this was happening. In fact, I kept questioning her. I was like, 'Are you sure?' When they wanted to put me on dialysis, I was like, 'Do I have to do this?' Because I was in denial."

The episode began a new chapter of Brown's life, one that has since required dialysis appointments lasting three hours a day, three days a week. The treatments also require a recovery time, and Brown often spends time in bed resting when she's not at the clinic.

"It's terrible. It's awful in every single way possible," Brown says of undergoing dialysis, which filters and purifies blood through a machine. "It's not a normal life at all."

Author Echo Brown in Need of Transplant while Battling Kidney Disease
Credit: Courtesy Echo Brown

Brown is currently on the waitlist for a kidney transplant, but so far hasn't found a match. A GoFundMe campaign was started for her in March to help her pay for medical bills and raise awareness for kidney donation.

There are more than 100,000 people on the kidney transplant waiting list at any time in the United States, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Over 3,000 people are added to the list each month, and 13 people die a day while waiting for a transplant.

"There is no guarantees here," Brown says. "I could find a match, but then the kidney doesn't turn on, or the kidney works for a short amount of time, then I have to go through this process again. So yes, until you find a kidney that continues to work, you will be on dialysis and you don't have a choice because your kidneys don't work."

RELATED VIDEO: Why Living Organ Donor Brian Flynn Donated a Kidney—and Then Part of His Liver—to Two Strangers in Two Years

Despite the situation, there is still much to look forward to — in January 2022, Brown will be released her second book, The Chosen One. The book will cover her first year of college at Dartmouth and how she and other people were able to find success after difficult upbringings.

Brown says she wrote much of the book while in treatment for kidney failure.

"I wrote so much of that book while I was in the hospital and on dialysis. I was afraid that I would die without finishing it. So I had to finish it," she says. "It was my goal to finish it. A week into the hospital stay I started working on it again because I was afraid I wasn't going to make it through this."

She hopes her story today can help inspire people to sign up to be organ donors for the many people awaiting transplants.

"Look, this is somebody's body," she says. "They don't know if they will need a kidney down the line after they give one away. So I get it. It's so tough to make that decision. But I think there's a lot of misperceptions about it."

"There's a lot of knowledge and information that people don't have about it," Brown adds, "and kidney donation is safe."

For more information on kidney donations, visit the American Kidney Fund.