The Gardener in Love

By Maxine Phoenix

Meghna V. is a girl on the go. A woman, rather, with a burgeoning career, a beautiful marriage, two dogs to care for, and art to do. When we connect, she breathlessly explains the busy week she’s in the midst of: balancing her studies with work and acrylic painting, which has been a source of comfort and joy for her. Meghna’s in school, working on her masters for Public Health, following an undergraduate track in Biology. She explains it all, peppering in bits of humor, letting a laugh shine through, listing off the responsibilities as if they’re commonplace, the colors of the rainbow. She’s a go-getter, structured yet free-flowing, meticulously cultivating each aspect of her life with care, love, and a green thumb.

During the week, Meghna teaches as a STEM instructor at Cal State Bernardino in-between her own class schedule. She works with underprivileged youth, teaching them science, tech, and math. Walking me through an example day (“I wake up at eight, make sure I have a nutritious breakfast, do schoolwork, take a walk, then head to work”) she mentions a recent one-on-one meeting with a student of hers who had failed his chemistry class. Meghna connected with him, tried to understand where he was coming from, and encouraged him to bring in his missing work so they could tackle it together. “It was a mini intervention.” She’s hoping to start a family of her own with her husband in the near future, and her motherly instincts shine through even in the story’s recounting. For now, she has her students and her two dogs, James Bond and General McArthur, two little poodle mixes. “As soon as I was able to have a little more time at home, I got a dog,” Meghna shares. She then realized getting another would help the first have even more company—and thus the little family was created, bringing even more warmth, love, and support to Meghna’s life.

Meghna at a Hindu event that she attended wearing her traditional clothing from India. She takes every opportunity that she gets to celebrate her culture and heritage!

At age nineteen, Meghan was diagnosed first with an autoimmune disorder. Something was wrong and the answers weren’t yet clear. Her kidneys started to shut down and she went on hemodialysis, which lasted for almost four years. Now she has a transplant and a renewed sense of gratitude, appreciation for life and her kidneys. “I can have a slice of chocolate cake, or a banana now,” Meghna shares, “without worrying if I’ve thrown my labs out of whack.” She built up a bucket list while on dialysis outside of what she was looking forward to eating and cooking (though that is an important component to her life, as the self-proclaimed “foodie” shares). As soon as she was able to, Meghna traveled all over the world. She’s from India, and also has family in England, Denmark, Canada, across the United States, and in Finland. All of the travels proved to be eye-opening, life-changing, beautiful—especially to Finland.

One of Meghna’s pups relaxing in the garden.

Meghna immediately fell in love with Finnish culture. “I love how calm and relaxed everyone is there,” she says with a smile. “They live life to the fullest. Really enjoy their lives.” And the food? “Delicious and humbling.” Meghna’s aunt made her promise that she would marry a Finnish man…and soon after returning to the USA, Meghna met her soon-to-be-husband. Who just happens to be Finnish. They met online, fell in love, and have been married “since Omicron,” she jokes. “He’s a great dog dad,” Meghna muses, and shares that they have also grown a lovely garden in their yard. It’s something that has helped to keep her grounded, a tiny slice of nature to cultivate, but has also proved to be another point of bonding between the couple. ‘I go out there every day and spend ten, twenty minutes looking at everything. I gotta make sure it’s not dead.” She offers advice: “Gardening tip? Just make sure it’s not dead!” Her husband does the heavy-lifting in the garden. Together, they’ve grown herbs: dill, sage, mint, oregano. They’ve bloomed lavender and other flowers. And a crunchy veggie, sugar snap peas. It’s a place to go for calmness, and another way to practice parenting, to help little things grow.

Meghna (center) with prom attendee Theresa (rt) and RSN Founder Lori Hartwell (lt)

Meghna describes herself as a very social person. Her days are filled with navigating for other people, helping them, learning from them, and, at times, receiving care. These days, her doctor’s appointments have scaled back to every three months or so but if she gets sick, “it magnifies a bit.” Right after she got her transplant, Meghna had to go in every two weeks. She desires to share everything she’s been through both with dialysis and as a transplant patient with others, to help educate families and people who have kidney disease. During her dialysis years, she discovered the RSN Renal Teen Prom via a fellow kidney peer on Facebook. Meghna’s mom was advocating to find her a living donor and connected with another mom doing the same for her daughter online. “I found myself in this alternate universe,” Meghna says of the web she unearthed, built of people seeking kidney donors, hoping to spread information. That’s how she learned of RSN. “When I heard about the Prom, I was like, ‘Oh my God, amazing—we get to dress up and look pretty and meet other people?’” Through the years, as Meghna’s been on different parts of the path of kidney disease, she feels she’s learned many lessons to share. “I want to say that I’ve had a kidney transplant: Here’s what to expect.’” Some tips she shares with me to pass along are to practice gratitude and to reduce your organ meat in your diet (Meghna is moving towards vegetarianism to help prolong the life of her kidney).

Meghna rests on a bench is in the Huntington Library gardens after exploring paintings such as explore another painting, “Blinking Sam,” by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

I ask her what the future holds. She laughs and shares her dream of moving to Spain. She’s been able to travel there five times in her life and fantasizes about living in the Costa del Sol region. But it’s complicated. “All my health care is here. That’s the reality of having a transplant—you don’t have the luxury of just up and moving to another country.” But there are many promising things in her neck of the woods, too. Meghna’s been supporting her local community in the Inland Empire, seeking out gardening groups and walking clubs, she’s graduating from her master’s program in August (“I’m terrified! It’s so competitive.”), and holds another moving dream, this one in regard to Texas. She shares that her nephrologist is retiring soon, that they only have 28 appointments left. Meghna has had the same team with her since she was first diagnosed at age nineteen—they’re family now. “Maybe when he’s done, I’ll move to Texas!” she laughs. Her own dream job, what she’s working towards, is in transplant care. She wants to help people have the best experience possible.

Megna in Rockport Massachusetts at the site of the very historic painting, “Motif No. 1,” Rockport’s famous symbol.

When asked to describe herself in three words, Meghna pauses, works through it out loud. She wants to get it right. Ever the scientist. “I’m…resilient. Artistic.” She pauses again. “And giving. I’m always giving away my stuff. ‘Oh, you like my earrings? Take them!’” We end our call on that note, leaving Meghna with more time to cultivate: to grow her garden, her relationships, and her sense of self as both educator and patient.






Maxine Phoenix is a freelance writer and she also volunteers for RSN.

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