From Hurting to Helping: Keith Freeman’s 180º Turnaround

Several years ago, Keith Freeman received help that turned his life around. Ever since, he has given of himself and his time in an effort to pay it forward. 

In 2019, Keith Freeman received news he had hoped would never come. His kidneys had failed. Whether it was years of taking ibuprofen for sports injuries, medications for chronic gout, or some other cause was uncertain. But his diagnosis and path forward were definitive. Keith had end stage renal disease (ESRD) and would need dialysis to live.

A level of trust

“I still get emotional thinking about that moment,” says Keith. “I called my boss and I cried. I didn’t know what my life was going to be like with this machine. But then I just stopped and said, ‘God whatever you have for me, you know better than me.’ It was like something said, ‘trust me.’”

Having learned about the various options for dialysis therapy, Keith trained to do peritoneal dialysis at home. He has an established therapy routine and schedule that works well for him and a strong connection with his care team at Fresenius Kidney Care.

“The level of care at Fresenius Kidney Care is just top-notch,” Keith says. “They hold you accountable and really care about you. I feel so safe around them, the whole staff. I just love them.”

A battle to survive

Through his care team, Keith found the assistance he needs to help him fight ESRD. But earlier in his life, Keith’s fight was against a different foe. Himself.

Keith was raised by supportive parents in Englewood, a neighborhood of Chicago known for violence and crime. Though he was never part of a gang himself, he was surrounded by negative influences.
“I was a magnet for trouble,” says Keith. “Guilty by association.” 

Keith distanced himself from Englewood via a baseball scholarship to Jackson State University in Mississippi, where he was working towards earning a degree in Industrial Technology with a minor in Education. He planned to be a shop teacher, but after a move to Atlanta, a failed marriage, and a spiral into reckless behavior, he wound up homeless and had to move back in with his parents. 

Though he intended to “get back on track,” Keith stumbled further and spent the next 11 years in and out of shelters and support programs.


“I tried every program in the city,” Keith shares. “I felt so defeated. I turned my back on my family and I lost everything.”

New ways to thrive

But all wasn’t lost. Keith found the help he desperately needed at Olive Branch Mission in Chicago, a faith-based recovery organization with a 150-plus year history. After completing his six-month program, Keith was so taken with the mission he begged to stay another half year. In his own words, “It changed literally everything.”

Over the last decade, Keith has been helping others find their way out of tough situations. He has worked in community organizing, literacy programs, job development, and with at-risk youth. Driven by his own experiences, he is now the city organizer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

“My passion was always about helping people,” says Keith. “I listen to them, and I let them talk. They all have a story. I dare not to judge anybody because that’s what happened to me.”

Keith has a home of his own now and, along with taking control of his personal and professional life, does everything he can to stay healthy and, hopefully, receive a transplant someday.

“I know stuff I never knew about; I’ve got to be careful with all the stuff I put in my body now,” he says. “I’m not perfect but I’m careful. I just keep on moving forward and stay positive. I’m in the zone now, and there’s no struggle. Dialysis is not running me, I’m running it.”

December 2020


We want to hear from you if you’re living with kidney disease and thriving—or if you’re caring for someone who is. Your experience can help inspire and empower others.


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