| Dialysis | Kidney disease | Patient stories | Transplant

Singer, Stylist, and Chef: “Life On Dialysis Doesn't Have to be Bleak.”

May 16, 2023, 11:59am EDT

Dione Bullard sonríe y patea el aire

Dione Bullard’s passion for creative expression has followed him throughout his entire life. From his early days in church choir to his time as a celebrity stylist and private chef, Dione has never stopped pursuing artistic interests. Despite facing kidney failure, life on dialysis, and personal loss, Dione has remained resilient and continues exploring new avenues for self-expression. 

Now, with a kidney transplant, he's returning to his roots as a singer, determined to make the most of every moment and celebrate a life well lived.

Dione's noteworthy career

Dione in a blazer smiling brightly

"I discovered my love of music like most young Black kids, in church. My aunt was also a session singer, a type of freelance singer, who sang in the legendary 70's gospel group, Andraé Crouch Singers, and on The Color Purple soundtrack," said Dione. "I didn't think I could sing but I developed my love and talent in high school."

Under the tutelage of the choir teacher, Dione and his choir mates learned how to sing and how the music industry works.

"He used all of his resources from the music industry to bring in notable artists to give us singing lessons on the weekend and we would take trips to A&M Records," Dione said. "We also got to be a part of the Grammys."

Shortly after high school, Dione joined the R&B Soul group, Straight Up: "We wrote and recorded the title credit song for a documentary called 112th and Central through the Eyes of the Children about the housing projects in the area where my high school is. We sang at an inaugural celebration for Richard Reardon, a Mayor of San Diego. We were remote entertainment for the inauguration of Bill Clinton."

Sadly, the group fell apart after a record label offered them a contract since each member had a different idea of how the group should proceed. Dione was disillusioned with the music world and turned to other creative endeavors like celebrity styling, hair, and makeup. Dione befriended Melodee Sutton, a film and television supervisor, through his styling work and became her assistant.  

"By the time I finished her hair, she asked if I would work with her," said Dione. "So I did and together we worked on films like Wild, Wild West with Will Smith, Head of State with Chris Rock, King's Ransom with Anthony Anderson, and Too Fast Too Furious with the late John Singleton."

Years later, Melodee moved and offered Dione her job. While he loved the work, he decided to pursue another passion—cooking. 

"I come from a long line of cooks on both sides of my family. My father was an amazing cook and my uncle was the first African American chef for Marriott in Long Beach during the 60s and owned a restaurant," Dione said. "Both sides of my family were hugely engulfed in food. I was excited to explore that side of myself."

What Dione didn't know was that uncontrolled blood pressure was about to change his life forever. Learn more about blood pressure's effects on the kidneys.

Crashing into dialysis

Dione on dialysis

In 2005, Dione was about to start cooking school when he began losing weight and becoming lethargic. 

"As a person who was always battling weight issues, I was excited to lose weight. Then I didn't want to eat and started sleeping all the time. I was in between apartments, staying with my mom, and one day she came in and asked if I was okay," Dione said. "I normally get up early but I was asleep for almost sixteen hours. I said I was fine but mother's intuition knew that wasn't true. She told me to walk over to her. I jumped up, took a step, and collapsed." 

Dione drove himself to the hospital, where doctors were surprised he was still alive, let alone driving.

"They said, 'You need emergency dialysis. We are going into emergency surgery for a catheter right now.' They didn't know how I was alive and walking around. I should have had a heart attack because my potassium was through the roof," Dione said. "I was sleeping because I was essentially dying. If I had gone to sleep one more time, I probably would not have woken up."

Instead of feeling angry or confused by this news, Dione accepted it and learned to work with it. 

"My kidney disease came from blood pressure being completely out of control. I worked to control it, went to dialysis, and finished culinary school," said Dione. "I did what I had to. Dialysis is a life-sustaining treatment so I was never depressed or upset by it. It just became a natural part of my life. I think I inherited this strength, resilience, and thirst for living from my mother, who had breast cancer." 

After finishing school, Dione started his private chef career, landing distinguished clients like Berry Gordy, founder of the Motown record label, and Shawn Gee, President of Live Nation Urban.

Dione in chef's jacket

He continued this life for over a decade before his mother's breast cancer returned, and he began caring for her.

"I took care of my mother until she passed away in 2019. After that, I spent a lot of time in introspection evaluating my life and thinking about what I've left undone," said Dione. "I realized that one of those things was singing and recording."

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Returning to music and receiving a kidney transplant

Dione giving a peace sign after transplant surgery

With Dione's career in food established, he decided to get back to his first love of singing.

"I'm settled in my cooking career and have a great client list, so I can always do that. But what am I passionate about? I heard 'Here's to Life' as it was intentionally written–to celebrate the end of a life and an illustrious career. It's a toast to a life well lived and every time I listened to it, I felt this sense of celebration of things to come," said Dione. "Since I was determined to start living life more intentionally and with more passion, this song felt right. I don't know how much time I have left so I decided to go back into recording with this as my first project."

Dione knew he wanted Stan Lewis, a well-known American record label owner, to produce the song. 

"He has a wonderful jazz sensibility and was part of Kendrick Lamar's halftime show at the Super Bowl. I asked how much it would cost for him to help me with the song since I'm financing this myself and he told me not to worry about the money," Dione said. "This person gets thousands of dollars to do songs for people like Rihanna and Mary J Blige, so this let me know I was on the right track."

With his music career picking back up, Dione took another huge life step–registering for the transplant waitlist. Sign up for a beginner's guide to receiving a kidney transplant.

"I didn't know anyone that had received the transplant in those earlier years, and I was doing so well on dialysis that I didn't want to push my luck," Dione said. "However, several friends recently received successful transplants and are thriving, so I decided it was time."

As Dione waited for a kidney to become available, he continued to produce music for his upcoming album "Velvet Dreams."

"I started dialysis in 2005 and I've had issues along the way. I've learned how to advocate for myself in my care, treatment, and career. I decided to not lie down and be sick. Life on dialysis doesn't have to be bleak," Dione said. "I want to inspire people to pursue their dreams. Just because you experience a life-changing diagnosis like kidney failure, doesn't mean you can't live your life with joy and passion."

On May 5th, 2023 Dione received his long-awaited kidney transplant. The surgery wasn’t without its challenges, but Dione is eternally grateful for this new lease on life.

“It became dangerously clear that there would be complications. Due to my eighteen years on dialysis, there was lots of clotting and scarring that made the simplest connections bleed uncontrollably. The team had to make some tough calls. I had to be given blood and at one point they even considered stopping the surgery altogether. I ended up sedated and on a respirator,” said Dione. “However, they persevered. When I woke up and they began to explain all that I had experienced, I was awash with immense gratitude. It was in a way a re-birth, a new awakening of sorts. I am forever grateful to the transplant team and surgical for their dedication and commitment to saving and extending my life. I will commit my life to paying it forward.”

Are you struggling with kidney disease, dialysis, or kidney transplantation? Speak with someone who understands. NKF Peers can connect you with a trained peer mentor who can share their experiences. Get matched with a mentor

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