Seven years ago, I was a busy manager of a furniture store and father to three young kids, when, at work one day, I had a high blood pressure episode. I temporarily lost consciousness and awoke in the hospital. While recovering, my doctors told me that not only was my blood pressure still out of control, but it had done serious damage to my kidneys and I would need to begin dialysis treatments to survive. It was a shocking blow.
I had been told before that my blood pressure was too high, and that it could affect my kidneys. But I was young, and I felt fine, so I really didn’t pay too much attention to the warnings. I didn’t realize that I could end up where I was, with total kidney failure and needing dialysis at just 27 years old. I wish that I had taken better care of my health. Unfortunately, I’m not the only person who has faced this reality. Today in the U.S., more than 500,000 people suffer from kidney failure. And prevalence of the disease is growing – this number is predicted to increase 60 percent by 2020. As alarming as this figure is, rates of kidney disease are growing among certain ethnic groups even more rapidly. According to the National Kidney Foundation, as a person of Hispanic descent, I was already twice as likely to develop kidney failure as a Caucasian person.
I started going to a dialysis center three times each week for three-to-four hours each session. It was a difficult change. After just a few months, I realized I could no longer keep my job at the furniture store while keeping up with the schedule of dialysis treatments, and finally quit, which put a strain on our family’s finances. I felt sick, tired, depressed and resentful of my kidney disease. I wasn’t a “good” dialysis patient. I missed treatments and didn’t follow the diet restrictions I was supposed to. Because of my non-compliance, I was told that I was not eligible to go on the list of patients awaiting a kidney transplant.
But, after a time, I started to come to terms with my condition. I wish I had been more careful with my blood pressure when I was younger, but I couldn’t change the fact that my kidneys had failed. I realized that the only thing I could control was how I dealt with the situation here and now, and I needed to be as healthy as I could for my kids, Tony, Alex and Kathy. I started taking better care of myself – I began eating better and tried to exercise more. Then, one day, at the dialysis center, I learned about the NxStage System One, the first truly portable dialysis machine intended for use in the home. With NxStage, I would be able to dialyze on my own, when and where I wanted. Being an independent person, I knew that I wanted the opportunity to have more control over my own care. With my wife, Enair, who is my trained partner, I completed the training and began dialyzing at home with the NxStage machine about a year ago.
Since then, I feel like my life has been transformed. With this treatment, I dialyze more frequently (six times per week) which has significantly improved my health. Almost right away, my blood pressure went down. My appetite has returned, and I sleep much better. I’ve even started running almost every day. When I do my treatments, instead of leaving for several hours, I’m able to sit and watch TV with my kids. Dialysis is no longer such an intrusion on my life.
With my dialysis schedule being more flexible, and because I felt so much better, I knew I could return to work and recently started a new job in retail. I have enough energy now that you would never know I live with kidney disease by looking at me. I’m a dialysis patient, but I can keep up with anyone else – I don’t feel like a “sick person” anymore. I’m proud to tell people that I do my own treatments at home. When I meet another person who has kidney disease or who has a family member with kidney disease, I always tell them about home hemodialysis. I want to share my story, especially with other members of the Hispanic community, so there can be more awareness of this condition and the steps that need to be taken to avoid kidney failure. Diabetes and obesity are more common among Hispanic people.
In fact, it’s estimated that 11 percent of Hispanic Americans have diabetes and, of these, about one third are undiagnosed and untreated. With diabetes and obesity being major causes of kidney disease, many Hispanic people may not be aware that they’re at risk for kidney failure. I know that I wasn’t. But in many cases, kidney failure is not preventable. For people who do need dialysis, I hope that more can learn about daily home hemodialysis as one available treatment. This option has helped me take charge of my health and, in many ways, given me what feels like a second chance in life.
To learn more about home dialysis, you can visit the American Association of Kidney Patient’s page on home dialysis: www.aakp.org/newsletters/Home-Magazine.
This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of aakpRENALIFE/At Home with AAKP magazine.