By Sasha Stewart
When I was diagnosed with kidney disease at age 21, I was shocked. I had never caught anything worse than a cold, and suddenly I needed a transplant ASAP! Even stranger, the nephrologist told me I had probably been sick for several years without knowing it. How was that possible?
The signs of kidney disease can be very subtle. My only symptom was that I was tired. Considering I was a college student, that seemed like more of a lifestyle than a symptom. But when I was too exhausted one morning to get out of bed to go see The Dark Knight with my boyfriend (now husband), he sent me to the doctor. Once there, she ran a litany of blood tests to cover her bases, but it was the simple CBC (Complete Blood Count) that showed my kidneys were failing.
It was at that moment that I tried to remember the last time I had had a CBC done. As a health-conscious woman, I visited the dentist, the eye doctor, and my gynecologist annually. However, none of them ever ran bloodwork. Why? They weren’t primary care physicians, and, without any symptoms, I never felt the need to see one. I thought I was taking care of myself. Besides, I was so young!
Although the autoimmune disorder that destroyed my kidneys was not preventable or treatable, had it been diagnosed sooner, I would have had more time to find a donor. For most Americans, though, chronic kidney disease is preventable. Early detection is key to creating a treatment regimen that can delay or avoid dialysis and transplantation altogether. With yearly doctor visits covered under the Affordable Care Act, there’s no reason every American shouldn’t see his or her doctor annually to check for kidney disease and other chronic conditions.
In my case, I was extremely fortunate. A mere four months after I was diagnosed, my incredible, selfless aunt donated one of her kidneys. It’s been five years and I’m leading a totally normal life (while avoiding sushi and grapefruit!). One of the reasons I’m doing so well is that I decided never to be caught off-guard by a diagnosis again. I see my physician and get my blood tested regularly to ensure we catch anything amiss early. Every time I take my pills, eat healthy, stay active, and see my doctor, I feel I’m honoring my aunt by protecting and caring for her life-saving gift.
Please check back next week when Sasha’s husband Nate offers good advice for family members experiencing the transplant journey.