Women who Inspire: Kris Keys

St. Jude helped Kris successfully manage her rare blood disorder and inspired her to use art to help her in challenging times

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  •  2 min

Women who Inspire: Kris Keys

In her darkest moments, Kris Keys remembers to look for the beauty in life. Blood transfusions, hospitalizations, needles, anemia – she channeled the anxiety she felt involving all those things into the art she creates. 

The artist and fashion designer was diagnosed at 2 with a rare genetic blood disorder, hereditary elliptocytosis. The disorder causes misshapen blood cells which don’t absorb oxygen as efficiently as normal red blood cells, causing fatigue, shortness of breath and jaundice. There is no treatment, so Kris and her family have had a lifetime of learning how to manage symptoms.  

Thankfully, they did not have to figure it all out on their own. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was there to help. Though St. Jude is most renowned for its research and treatment of pediatric cancer, it has also been a leader in the way the world understands and treats catastrophic blood disorders.

Women who Inspire: Kris Keys

Throughout her childhood and teenage years, Kris received constant monitoring from the hematologists at St. Jude.  

For Kris, the disorder produced particularly severe effects when she was a child getting over a viral infection. She struggled with severe fatigue and needed transfusions. 

It’s those required hospitalizations that led to her love of art. Sketching and painting helped calm her nerves as a 7-year-old, she recalls, when needles and syringes worried her.    

“I have learned over time that even in the most challenging times, you can find the light, the beauty in it,” Kris said. “If you focus on that, then the challenge won’t feel so intimidating.”

In recent years, Kris has found beauty and strength in nature. After living a while in London, she chose to relocate and settle in the California Bay Area because she said the longer sunny days have helped her feel stronger.  

Inspired by visits to local farms, she just launched her own tea brand. She creates blends from dried flowers like hibiscus, lavender, chamomile and other blooms.

Women who Inspire: Kris Keys

The Memphis native enjoys traveling the world, too, most recently participating in wellness retreats in Thailand and taking cultural tours in Central America.  

“I’ve learned so much about the different ways the people of the world use natural elements to feel better,” Kris said.

After successfully launching a fashion collection titled “Hematology” and inspired by her disorder, Kris is now preparing to launch a collection inspired by her grandmother’s storytelling.  

“Before bed, my grandmother would say ‘Come roll my hair,’ and she would just tell me stories, and many of those stories were about her health,” Kris said. 

“I’m trying to weave all those lessons, all that inspiration into the new collection I’m creating.”  

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