I lost my kidneys, not my lust for life!
If, like me, you take your kidneys for granted, consider what they do: these two bean-shaped, fist-sized organs found either side of your spine, just below your ribcage, filter and cleanse up to 200 litres of blood every day, expelling waste in one to two litres of urine. Kidneys are vital to keep your blood clean and its composition stable so your body functions properly. They maintain levels of key electrolytes (eg, sodium, potassium and phosphate), release hormones that help regulate blood pressure, make red blood cells and keep bones strong.
Over two million people in the UK suffer from moderate to severe kidney disease, which can affect any age, and another million are thought to be at risk (see bullet point, below). Around 55,000 patients are treated for end-stage kidney failure each year, mainly via kidney transplant or dialysis, a form of treatment that replicates kidney function. Traditionally, dialysis was only possible in hospitals, but modern technology means patients like Maddy Warren, 31, can now treat themselves at home.
Maddy’s kidneys were removed when she was 14. ‘I was completely healthy then, out of the blue, I got some strange symptoms, including extreme tiredness, puffy eyes and I just felt weird.’ (Other symptoms of kidney disease include high blood pressure, swollen ankles, fluid retention and/or lower back pain.)
Blood tests revealed Maddy had developed an autoimmune disease that targeted her kidneys. ‘My antibodies were attacking my kidneys as if they were a foreign body.’ This caused nephrotic syndrome, where the filters in the kidneys become ‘leaky’ and large amounts of protein from the blood leak into the urine.
Despite aggressive treatment, it proved impossible to suppress the immune reaction and in 1998 Maddy’s kidneys were removed and she went on dialysis. ‘The symptoms disappear when you don’t have kidneys and I felt much better on dialysis.’
After she finished school in 2003, Maddy received a kidney transplant from her father. ‘But within 12 hours, the nephrotic syndrome was back attacking my new kidney.’ Three months later, having tried all available treatments,
Maddy opted to have the kidney removed and go back on home dialysis. ‘I always feel so well on it: unlike traditional hospital dialysis – three to four hours intensively three times a week, which can put a real strain on the body – this gives me a much more consistent and gentle level of treatment, evenly spread over 40 hours a week, and I can do it while I sleep [nocturnal dialysis].’
Ten years on, Maddy feels ‘amazing. I have been able to progress at work [in the human resources department of a global investment bank], I am a fully qualified solo and formation sky-diver [pictured above] and I ride retired racehorses. I have incredibly good health and the time and capacity to do what I want because I can manage my treatment myself .’
• The main causes of kidney disease are diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease; however, the signs are difficult to spot, according to Kidney Research UK , which is concerned that up to a million people might have undiagnosed kidney disease (www.missingmillion.co.uk). Kidney damage makes high blood pressure and heart disease worse, which in turn leads to more kidney damage. Kidney Research UK advises patients to discuss the issues with their doctors, and there is a kidney health check on the website.
A daily glass of beetroot juice can lower blood pressure in people diagnosed with hypertension, according to new research by the British Heart Foundation. Interestingly, the finding even applied to patients whose blood pressure was not successfully controlled by drug treatment. The juice used in the study was James White Beet It Organic Juice Beetroot, £2.99 for 750 ml, from www.ocado.com.
WEBSITE OF THE WEEK: www.nosmokingday.org.uk
We all know the reasons to stop and, as a former smoker myself, I can say it is one of the best things I ever did. The biggest benefits I found were no cough, I could run for the bus, my hair, skin and clothes didn’t stink, plus I saved a small fortune – and no, I didn’t put on weight. This website – for No Smoking Day on Wednesday, a campaign organised by the British Heart Foundation – offers links to local resources and practical help to become a ‘proud quitter’.