Celeste Lee Award

Maria Elena Grijalva

Kidney Advocate 

This award was established in honor of Celeste Castillo Lee, a longtime advocate for patient-centered care and empowerment.  It is the highest honor given by the National Kidney Foundation to a distinguished kidney patient who exemplifies NKF’s mission and Celeste’s legacy of putting patients at the center of all aspects of healthcare through their involvement with NKF and community partners.


Maria Elena was born and raised in the agricultural center of Tulare California. She was unaware of kidney disease until she was diagnosed with kidney failure in her early 30’s and told she needed a kidney transplant. Her brother John donated his kidney to her - his kidney still keeps her going today after 36 years! This incredible gift has given Maria Elena the power to educate others about prevention, understanding their kidney disease, and to advocate for themselves with their healthcare team. She has committed herself to bringing awareness to her communities by coordinating the only Kidney Support Group in 4 counties.  Devoting her efforts to bring kidney education to the Native American and farmworker population has been her favorite and most rewarding audience. Her living donor brother John and her have teamed up in assuring others that donation is a possibility for a better life off dialysis.


View press release here.