Patient: Resources offer hope when living with CKD

Teresa Ritter celebrates St. Patrick’s Day every year with her mother. They celebrate it like a birthday. That’s because on March 17, 1999, Ritter’s mother donated a kidney to her daughter, giving her new life.

Ritter was 29 years old at the time. She needed a kidney transplant because of chronic kidney disease.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) means that the kidneys have been damaged and are not working as they should. Diabetes and hypertension are the most common causes leading to chronic kidney disease, but Dr. Sonali Birewar, ADC Nephrologist, says congenital kidney disorders can also lead to CKD.

“There is a condition called congenital kidney disease,” Dr. Birewar said. “The most common of those is called reflux kidney disease. It is where the valve between your ureter and your bladder is not working well. Eventually that leads to recurrent kidney infections and that can actually damage the kidneys.”

Ritter was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease eight years before her transplant.

In the early stages of CKD, patients may not notice any symptoms. But the kidneys’ main function is to filter the blood. As the disease progresses and kidney function deteriorates, Dr. Birewar says toxins can build up in the blood. Symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Sleepiness

“A lot of times you feel bad. You are tired. You’re nauseated. You’re not hungry. You lose your appetite,” Ritter said. “But on the outside you look fine, so people do not really understand what you’re going through. They look at you and they say ‘you look fine.’ Well, inside you’re not.”

When chronic kidney disease becomes advanced, doctors may recommend a transplant for the patient.

Currently, there are roughly 96,000 Americans waiting to receive a kidney. Some will receive a kidney transplant from those who donate their organs after death. Others undergo a living transplant — when another person decides to donate their kidney to a recipient.

Every year, fewer than 17,000 people receive a kidney transplant, and according to the National Kidney Foundation, 13 people die every day waiting for a transplant.

Ritter says it’s been 15 years since her first transplant, and her mom is very healthy.  She says the transplant completely changed her life.

“I had been in such denial before the actual transplant. I felt better immediately after. I was up and about. I had more energy than I had ever had before. I could not believe I had waited so long,” she said. “I was scared. I was not sure what was going to happen. The unknown was really terrifying to me. I do like to tell people it’s not as bad as you think. If anything, after the transplant, I felt 100 percent better. My quality of life had changed immensely.”

Ritter says within months of her transplant she was able to go back to work full-time, and then later got married and had a child who is now 10.

“I was able to lead a life like everyone else. Unfortunately I need another transplant. My sister is going to donate in June,” she said.

Ritter says it’s not easy to change your lifestyle in order to stay healthy and feel better when you have chronic kidney disease, but there are resources available to patients so they don’t have to endure the disease alone.

“There are so many people out there. We just don’t talk about it,” she said. “Ask the question. Reach out to people who have symptoms similar to what we’re going through. You just have to know you’re not alone. There are a lot of us out there, and we need each other to support each other.”