Singer Natalie Cole is back on the road, hitting the stage with something new: a kidney. In February 2008, following a routine checkup, Cole's doctor informed her that she had hepatitis C, which he believed stemmed from her drug use over 30 years ago. In March 2009, Cole appeared on "Larry King Live" and revealed that the function of her kidneys was less than eight percent and without dialysis, she would die.
Singer Natalie Cole is back on the road, hitting the stage with something new: a kidney. In February 2008, following a routine checkup, Cole's doctor informed her that she had hepatitis C, which he believed stemmed from her drug use over 30 years ago. In March 2009, Cole appeared on "Larry King Live" and revealed that the function of her kidneys was less than eight percent and without dialysis, she would die. Watching that program was Patty Argueta, whose aunt Esther was a nurse who had helped Cole while she was in hospital. Argueta recalls her sister Jessica, 32, turning to her and her Aunt Esther and saying, "I wish we could help her." Months later, Jessica died from complications related to childbirth and her family reached out to Cole. They told her if Jessica's kidney was a match, they wanted her to have it. Not only was it a match -- it was a 100 percent match. In an ironic twist, as Cole was in the operating room saving her life, her sister Carol "Cookie" Cole lost her battle with lung cancer. Cole documents this extraordinary tale in her new memoir, "Love Brought Me Back: A Journey of Loss and Gain." We caught up with Cole hours before she took the stage in Red Bank, N.J. Although she's known for hit songs like "This Will Be," and "I've Got Love on My Mind, not to mention being the daughter of Nat King Cole. When you spend a few moments with Cole, you realize there's much more to her than all of that. Her spirit is illuminating, and her passion for life is truly unforgettable. ESSENCE.com: What made you decide to write this book? NATALIE COLE: I think it was just a very compelling story. I couldn't believe it myself when all of these things happened to me over the past two years. The way that it ended up was just kind of extraordinary. The life of a stranger basically saved my life. At the same time, that stranger lost their life. Then it all happened at the time when my sister had lost her life as well. You have to question it to some degree. You know, everything happens for a reason. ESSENCE.com: What went through your mind when you were first told the news about your kidneys? COLE: I didn't realize how sick I was. This is when you realize that you take so much for granted. I didn't realize the importance of the kidney. I mean, functioning at 8 percent -- you know that's not good, but you don't know how bad that is. It never occurred to me that I might be dying. I just knew that there was something very wrong, but I wasn't thinking, "I'm going to die. I'm going to die." ESSENCE.com: What do you think is the biggest misconception about organ donation? COLE: Probably that being a donor hurts -- that you're laid up in the hospital for days on end. The truth is, it's not a painful operation. The person who has actually donated the kidney, they're probably out of the hospital in two to three days. It's a simple operation. It's a little more complicated for the recipient, obviously. It's critical for the recipient. I've learned so much more about it. So now, I encourage people to become donors. A lot of people think as soon as you put your name on the dotted line (to become a donor) that they are going to come after you and get your kidney right then and there. (laughs) That's not true. ESSENCE.com: Every November 28 you celebrate your sobriety anniversary. This year marks 27 years. Were you angry about the choices you made and how they ended up affecting you decades later? COLE: One of things is that you must live your life, if possible, without regret. If you are the kind of person who is open to learning, every negative thing that ever happened, every mistake you ever made and every choice is going to affect you in a way, whether it's good or bad. It will change you. You have to be responsible for your choices. You can't moan and whine and feel sorry for yourself when the consequences aren't what you hoped they would be. You deal with it. Unfortunately, we do have some young people out there who have made some really bad choices, and it did kill them. I would say to the ones who are still standing, "Watch yourself. Keep your ear to the ground. Be a good observer. Treat people well, and take responsibility for your choices." ESSENCE.com: Word has it that you are working on a new album. COLE: The gift and wonderfulness of being an artist is that you never really run out of ideas. I have no idea what I'm going to do next! (laughs) I'm curious to ask, "What would my fans like for me to do?" Another jazz record or another pop record? Or an international record? There's still so many great choices out there. I just hope it will be fun, rhythmic and colorful. That's all I can say right now. ESSENCE.com: And now thinking about your new kidney, do you remember your song that came out in 1985 called "The Gift?" COLE: Oh, yes! Yes! It's wonderful. I co-wrote that with a friend of mine. ESSENCE.com: 2011 is approaching. Do you have any goals? COLE: Oh, boy. Of course, number one is to stay in good health. Number two is that my family stays in good health. I hope that there's some great new music to come. Being successful and being healthy, you can't beat that. And having God in your life. I don't know what else you need. Everything else is gravy. ESSENCE.com: Thankfully, everything is fine with your health now, but if something had happened and you didn't pull through, what would you have wanted your legacy to be? COLE: I think it will be that I'm a fighter. I'm a survivor. I have taken everything in my stride. I'm one of those people who just gets knocked down and gets back up again. ESSENCE.com: Like your song "Livin' for Love." COLE: Oh, God, yeah! Yeah! That was such a fun song to do! That is it, child! If you can get through that, nobody can say nothin'! I love it! Natalie Cole's new memoir "Love Brought Me Back: A Journey of Loss and Gain" is available is in stores.