Kidney Transplant: Cure or Treatment? 

I’ve already mentioned that there’s an active network of kidney disease awareness advocates… and that we find each other. I met Steve at a think tank last spring. I wasn’t really sure why I’d been invited, but as soon as he and his wife started talking, I knew why they were.

I hesitated to ask Steve to guest blog since, at the time, I was only writing about Chronic Kidney Disease. Since then, readers have asked me to write about all sorts of topics dealing with the kidneys, not just CKD. So I did. Steve and his thoughts on being a transplant fit right in to this new agenda. When I did ask him to guest blog, I received a return response that was one of the most gracious acceptances… and they’ve all been gracious. I’ll turn the blog over to Steve Winfree now.

The other day I was speaking with some friends and one made mention to me how incredibly lucky I was. I received a new kidney from my wife, Heather, just last year and I was feeling as if I were on top of the world. Given that fact, I had to agree with him, but I inquired further to find out what he meant. He responded that it must be such a relief to be cured and to no longer have to worry about kidney issues, dialysis, and the mess that comes with it.

That really got me thinking about what a kidney transplant actually means outside of the wonderful opportunity for a second chance at a more normal life. It also reminded me that there is a knowledge gap between those close to kidney failure and those who are not.

It is essential that, as a kidney transplant recipient, I clarify the difference between a cure and a treatment. Chronic Kidney Disease is a disease that progresses over time. This is due to the fact that CKD is a disease in which your body attacks your kidneys, or is a genetic disorder (PKD), or is a result of a primary disease such as diabetes and/or high blood pressure. The common factor among the types of kidney disease is that an outside source, not the kidney itself, is the reason for the issues.

This is why receiving a new kidney is a treatment and not a cure. A genetic disorder is still active in your body even when the new kidney is placed. Diabetes and high blood pressure can still be prevalent even with a new kidney, thus causing the implanted kidney to be affected in the same way as the old one. It is due to these reasons that a transplant is a treatment and not a cure. My new kidney has allowed my body to filter out the toxins much more easily, freed me from dialysis, and granted me the ability to get around easier since my arthritis was derived from my kidney disease.

The truth is that while this second opportunity at a much better life is an enormous blessing, the reality is that there is a good chance I will need another transplant one day. The reason is that the cause of my initial kidney failure is still within my body and attacking the new kidney. That is in addition to another main reason that a new kidney is not a final cure: organ rejection.

A new kidney is looked at as a foreign object by your body. Our bodies are designed to keep the body in balance and when something out of the ordinary, such as a virus invading, it attacks to bring balance back. The same is applied to a kidney that is transplanted from another source. Your body sees it as a foreign object and attacks it. That is why we must take immunosuppressant drugs to trick our bodies into not realizing there is a foreign organ inside.

With all of this being said about my new transplant being a treatment and not a cure, I want to mention how my life has changed forever. At the age of 33, I feel better right now than I have since I was a young teenager. My entire adult life has been spent in hospitals and doctors’ offices. I am now free to use my time to travel, enjoy life, and be the foster parent that I have always wanted to be.

A big part of receiving a kidney transplant is the medicine that is involved. The medicine you have to take every day is known as an immunosuppressant, or anti-rejection. While this is a medicine that you must take for the rest of your life, there are steps you can take to ensure that you are able to receive the medicine in an affordable manner. Kidney transplant patients qualify for Medicare. Medicare helps take care of a lot of the costs associated with taking these medications, but not all of it. The best advice I can give you in regards to your medications is to educate yourself on Medicare, MediGap, manufacturer coupons, and be in a close relationship with your transplant team’s social worker. It can be overwhelming at times, but I promise you that there are resources out there to help you!

I am extremely lucky in the fact that my wife, Heather, donated her kidney to me. While this is a treatment, it is the most remarkable and life changing treatment I have ever been blessed to receive! While all kidney disease patients would love to be cured, we understand that will never be the case, but that does not mean our lives cannot be just as remarkable and enjoyable with our treatments.

While we all watched our different renal diets during the weekend we were together, I never once saw Steve or Heather bemoan their new regiment with the transplanted kidney. While they talked about the exorbitant cost of the medications, they were accepting. One other thing I noticed about this delightful couple is that they were grateful every minutes of the time we spent together. I’m hoping Steve’s transplant lasts him as long as is medically feasible.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

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