Gail Glasser first discovered she had a problem with her kidneys in high school. At the age of 15, she had strep throat that went left untreated because she never told her parents. Even after her throat healed, she continued to feel unwell and eventually went to see her doctor. At first, the doctor did not find anything wrong with her. As the months went by, Gail’s health wasn’t improving, and she also started gaining weight. Her doctor then ordered additional blood work, which revealed a problem with her kidneys. Gail was referred to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for a kidney biopsy, which showed damage to both of her kidneys. At 18 years old, she was diagnosed with Glomerulonephritis, and it was then determined that her kidney damage was a result of her untreated strep throat infection.
With this new diagnosis, Gail found a nephrology team and was assigned to a young kidney doctor, Dr. Roger Hedger. As a new patient, she recalls thinking he was mean and had a horrible bedside manner, but with time, began to appreciate her doctor’s methods. Dr. Hedger ordered a second kidney biopsy to confirm Gail’s results. As an innovative thinker, he then focused on Gail’s overall health, including her mental health. “He taught me how to live a clean, healthy life to keep my kidneys as healthy as possible,” Gail said. Gail was able to live a normal life for many years. She went to college, worked, and had three children all while following her doctor’s orders.
One thing Gail prioritized was eating a kidney-friendly diet that was right for her. This included no added salt, which Dr. Hedger prescribed right before Thanksgiving, early on in her diagnosis. Her mom cooked a special turkey for her using no salt and only seasonings, and her parents adapted to their daughter’s kidney healthy lifestyle to support her and make transitions as easy as possible. In addition to modifying her salt intake, Gail also monitored how much protein, dairy, and sugar she was consuming.
Exercising was an important part of her prescribed healthy living lifestyle as well. She began walking regularly and lifting weights. For her mental health, Dr. Hedger taught her a technique called “biofeedback meditation,” which helps with stress and anxiety.
When Gail became a mom, she became even more interested in healthy living and started researching on her own not only to keep her kidneys healthy, but also for her children’s health. As a result, Gail never had high blood pressure or diabetes that so often accompanies kidney disease and she was able to keep her kidneys functioning for many years, never having to go on dialysis.
When Dr. Hedger was preparing to retire, he encouraged Gail to pre-emptively get on the kidney transplant waitlist. Gail was in her 50s and her kidneys were still functioning adequately, but she would eventually need a kidney transplant. Dr. Hedger suggested she get on the list now as the wait could be up to 10 years.
Gail went through the process to be included on the transplant waitlist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. She had been waitlisted for several years before she got the call, and knew the timing was right. On November 20, 2015, a Friday evening, her transplant coordinator called to inform her that a kidney was available for her and requested she head to the hospital. Gail asked the coordinator, “Is it a good kidney?” She was assured it was, and was told the deceased donor was a small, young boy. That was the only information she was given. Gail headed to the hospital and underwent surgery the next morning. Her deceased donor kidney began working in her body right away and she was released from the hospital only two days post-surgery.
Gail has had a few bumps in the road with her new kidney, but seven years in, she is doing very well. She gives much credit to her nephrologist, Dr. Roger Hedger, and her transplant doctor, Dr. John Friedewald, who she refers to as her guardian angels for all their excellent care over the years and encouraging her to seek a pre-emptive transplant in the hopes she would never have to experience dialysis.
Since her transplant, she now lives an even cleaner lifestyle and says she’s constantly looking for new ways to protect herself and her kidney. She watches her potassium, phosphorus, salt, and sugars, reads nutrition fact labels, and does a lot of research on food and nutrition. She also does a lot of reading and research on innovation and has participated in several studies including Trac, Trugraf, and Omnigraf testing. She joined AAKP as an Ambassador because she has a strong desire to be a kidney advocate and provide a supportive voice for fellow patients. “We need innovation—new drugs and new testing—to save our lives and our bodies.”
Today, at age 67, Gail is living her best life. She has two healthy daughters, two incredible sons-in-law, and a wonderful significant other, who eats a kidney-friendly diet just like her. Gail says receiving a transplant was a blessing and plans to continue to research and advocate for kidney patients to make a difference in the future of kidney care.