| Dialysis | Kidney disease | Patient stories | Transplant

Kidney Hero to Squid Game Warrior: Jada’s Inspiring Story

February 06, 2024, 9:10am EST

Jada Sasha Contestant 097

From donating a kidney to competing in Squid Game: The Challenge, Jada Sasha has always taken chances and followed her dreams. Read on to discover the extraordinary events that shaped her and why she believes in living life to the fullest.

A brother's battle with lupus

As a child, Jada's brother was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack itself.

"He's had lupus for the majority of his life. In our childhood, he went to the doctor every six months. It didn't affect him too much." said Jada. "Everything changed when he caught COVID-19 in April 2020." 

Within a matter of a few weeks, Jada's brother went from having fully functioning kidneys to kidney failure. 

"He started in-center hemodialysis. He had treatment three times a week for four hours each day." Jada said, "For two years I watched him struggle. I saw how sick he was and decided to do something about it. I was the only good familial candidate–I'm healthy and fit. I had a good chance of becoming his living kidney donor. I would have done anything to give my brother his life back."

Jada began the living kidney donor evaluation in July 2021. She was confirmed a perfect candidate by November, and the surgery was scheduled for January 5th, 2022. 

"A week before the surgery I flew from my home state, New Jersey, to California, where my brother lives. During routine testing, I tested positive for COVID-19 and was so distraught. I didn't want to mess up the timeline. I wanted to donate as soon as I got approved," said Jada. "Everything was up in the air."

Are you interested in becoming a living donor? Take this course to learn everything you need about donating a kidney

Becoming a living kidney donor

Jada Sasha giving peace sign after transplant

Luckily, Jada must have been nearing the end of the infection before arriving in California. Within a week, she no longer tested positive for COVID-19, and the transplant was rescheduled for January 27th.

"I wasn't nervous until they rolled me into the surgery suite. The anesthesiologist reassured me and suddenly we were counting down. The surgery lasted four hours but it felt like I'd only blinked." Jada said, "I was only in the hospital for a day but it took a few weeks to get back to normal."

At first, Jada thought she'd bounce back within a week or two but quickly learned her limits.

"I'm very active so I was itching to get back to it. Ten days after the donation, I took a hike and realized that I shouldn't have. The doctors said it was okay but my body needed more time to adjust to having one kidney," said Jada. "After that, I took two months to rest. Giving myself that grace made all the difference."

Jada's recovery was pretty smooth. Her brother was a different story.

Jada Sasha sitting by her brother in the hospital after transplant

"He was in the hospital for over two weeks because he started rejecting the kidney. It was nerve-racking and I felt guilty because I was the healthy sibling again." Jada said, "Thankfully, the doctors figured out the right combination of medications. He's been doing great ever since."

Are you looking for a living kidney donor? Take this course to learn everything you need to know.

Squid Game: The Challenge Contestant 097

Jada Sasha next to Squid Games The Challenge director

Just one year later, Jada was ready for her next challenge. It appeared as a casting call while she was binging Squid Games, the popular television series.

"When I saw the casting call for a reality version of Squid Games, I knew I had to apply." Jada said, "I love being on social media, showing my personality, and connecting with new people. It seemed like a challenge I'd excel at."

To Jada's shock and excitement, she was chosen as Contestant 097 and vowed to donate a portion of the prize to kidney donor programs if she won. 

"The game started with Red Light Green Light. On the TV show, the distance to the large doll positioned at the far end of the playing field didn’t look far. When you’re there, participating in the game, the distance is overwhelming. It’s a mental challenge. You’re trying not to move during the red light, but you need to keep going forward. I wasn’t flying across the world to London to lose and be sent home the next day," said Jada. "Moving forward, I focused on strategy by making allies. What started as a strategy led to real friends, real connections."

While that friendship enriched Jada's life, it made her elimination in episode seven much more painful. 

"I played the winner, Mai (Contestant 287), during the marbles game where the goal was to get your marble closest to the wall. The winner of each round took both marbles. The person with none left at the end lost. I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea that I'd send my friend home or my friend would send me home." Jada said, "That game was emotional because we had a close connection. She confided in me and I in her. She knew about my life, my family, and kidney donation." 

The loss was bittersweet. Jada wasn't ready to go home, but she was happy Mai got to continue.

"In my last interview, it seemed like I was crying because of my kidney story. It wasn’t just that. I wasn't ready to leave. I loved being in the dorms and the connections I made," said Jada. "At first, I took the loss hard. Now, I know it went the way it needed to."

While the game is over, it's an experience Jada will hold dear to her for the rest of her life. 

"If I never got tested to become a donor, my brother might still be on dialysis. If I'd never taken the chance to try out for Squid Game: The Challenge, I wouldn't have fulfilled my life-long dream of being on a reality show." Jada said, "I didn't win but I did make many long-lasting, forever friends. I got an experience I'll never forget. My advice? Take the chance. Go after what you want. You never know where it'll lead."

A transplant changed Jada's brother's life; your monetary contributions can help more people get that chance. Donate today to help power more research, transplants, and hope.

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