CKD and the VA or It’s Not Alphabet Soup at All

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. It is not a day to say Happy Memorial Day since it is a day commemorating those who gave their lives for our freedom. Lots of us have bar-b-ques or go to the park or the beach to celebrate. No problem there as long as we remember WHO we are celebrating. I promise: no political rant here, just plain appreciation of those who serve(d) us both living and dead. Personally, I am honoring my husband, my step son-in-law, and all those cousins who just never came home again.

I explained the origins of this day in SlowItDownCKD 2015 (May 25), so won’t re-explain it here. You can go to the blog and just scroll down to that month and year in the drop down menu on the right side of the page under Archives. I was surprised to read about the origins myself.

We already know that Chronic Kidney Disease will prevent you from serving your country in the military, although there are so many other ways to serve our country. This is from The Book of Blogs: Moderate Stage Chronic Kidney Disease, Part 2:

‘The Department of Defense’s Instruction for Medical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction in the Military Services establishes medical standards, which, if not met, are grounds for rejection for military service. Other standards may be prescribed for a mobilization for a national emergency.

As of September 13, 2011, according to Change 1 of this Instruction, the following was included.

‘Current or history of acute (580) nephritis or chronic (582) Chronic Kidney Disease of any type.’

Until this date, Chronic Kidney Disease was not mentioned.”

You can read the entire list of The Department of Defense’s Instruction for Medical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction in the Military Services at http://dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/613003p.pdf. You’ll also find information there about metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and pre-diabetes as conditions for non-enlistment.

This got me to thinking. What if you were had already enlisted when you developed CKD. Yes, you would be discharged as medically unfit, but could you get help as a veteran?

According to the Veterans Administration at https://www.research.va.gov/topics/Kidney_disease.cfm#research4,

“In 2012, VA and the University of Michigan began the work of creating a national kidney disease registry to monitor kidney disease among Veterans. The registry will provide accurate and timely information about the burden and trends related to kidney disease among Veterans and identify Veterans at risk for kidney disease.

VA hopes the kidney disease registry will lead to improvements in access to care, such as kidney transplants. The department also expects the registry will allow VA clinicians to better monitor and prevent kidney disease, and will reduce costs related to kidney disease.”

That’s what was hoped for five years ago. Let’s see if it really came to fruition.

Oh, this is promising and taken directly from The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“VA eKidney Clinic

The VA eKidney Clinic is now available! The eKidney Clinic offers patient education through interactive virtual classrooms where Veterans can learn how to take care of their kidneys and live a good life with kidney disease. Please visit the VA eKidney Clinic website or click on the picture below. For additional information see the eKidney Clinic Patient Information Brochure.”

The Veterans Health Administration doesn’t just provide information, although I must say I was delighted to see the offer of Social Work Services. There is also treatment available. Notice dialysis mentioned in their mission statement.

Mission: The VHA Kidney Program’s mission is to improve the quality and consistency of healthcare services delivered to Veterans with kidney disease nationwide. The VHA Kidney Program provides kidney-related services to dialysis centers throughout VA’s medical centers. Professional guidance and services are available in the form of consultation and policies developed by VA kidney experts. These experts are dedicated to furthering the understanding of kidney disease, its impact on Veterans, and developing treatments to help patients manage disease symptoms. In addition, the VHA Kidney Program provides VA healthcare professionals with clinical care, education, research, and informatics resources to improve healthcare at local VA dialysis facilities.”

I did find it strange that there was a cravat on the Veterans Administration site that they do not necessarily endorse the VHA Kidney Program, especially since it is so helpful.

 

 

 

How involved is the VA with CKD patients? Take a look for yourself at this 2015 statistics by going to https://www.va.gov/HEALTH/services/renal/documents/Kidney_Disease_and_Dialysis_Services_Fact%20Sheet_April_2015.pdf

  • All Veterans enrolled in VA are eligible for services, regardless of service connection status
  • Enrolled Veterans can receive services from the VA or from community providers under the Non-VA Care Program if VA services are unavailable
  • 49 VA health care facilities offer kidney disease specialty care (nephrology services)
  • 96 VA facilities offer inpatient and/or outpatient dialysis; 25 centers are inpatient-only. Of the 71 VA outpatient dialysis centers, 64 are hospital based units, 2 are joint VA/DoD units, 4 are freestanding units, and one is within a community based outpatient clinic (CBOC)
  • VA enrollees must be offered the option of home dialysis provided either directly by the VA or through the Non-VA Care Program
  • 36 outpatient hemodialysis centers offer home dialysis care directly.
  • 5 VA medical centers host kidney transplantation programs.
  • VA Delivered Kidney Care (Calendar Year 2013) 13,794 Unique Veterans receiving dialysis paid for by VA; representing an annual increase of 13% since 2008. 794 Veterans received home dialysis; 55percent (434) by VA facilities and 45percent (360) under the Non-VA Care Program.
  • Increasing use of telehealth services to increase Veteran access to kidney specialty care Secure messaging: 7,319 messages, Clinical video telehealth: 4,977 encounters
  • VA Kidney Research (FY ’14) the research budget for the study of kidney disease has been $18.5 million per year for the past 5 years (FY ’10-FY ’14). The VA Cooperative Studies Program has supported national clinical trials addressing the best treatment of Veterans with CKD since at least 1998.

It seems to me our veterans are covered. Now if we could only make sure the rest of us stay covered no matter what bills the current administration signs into law.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

So That’s How It’s Decided

SlowItDownCKD’s being honored as one of the best kidney disease blogs for 2016 has had some interesting results.  The first was the health and food writer’s guest blog about hydration for Chronic Kidney Disease on March 6th. Then it was the guest blog by the Social Security Administration’s Outreach Director. This week, it’s a telephone interview with Dr. Michael J. Germain, a nephrologist from Massachusetts, about some of the suggested guidelines in the upcoming KDIGO for 2016.

Got it:  backtrack. Let’s start with KDIGO. This stands for KIDNEY DISEASE | IMPROVING GLOBAL OUTCOMES. Their homepage at KDIGO.org states, “KDIGO MISSION – Improving the care and outcomes of kidney disease patients worldwide through the development and implementation of global clinical practice guidelines.” Anyone up for visiting their offices? What an excuse to go to Belgium!

Okay, now we know what the organization is and what it does, but why Dr. Germain? I asked the same question. Although he is not on the KDIGO panel of doctors who decide what the next year’s development and implementation will be, he is well versed with the topic having published or having been part of the writing for an overwhelming number of articles in such esteemed journals as the American Journal of Kidney Disease, Kidney International, and The Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, as well as contributing to textbooks, … and he could simplify the medicalese in the guidelines to simple English for this lay person.

If you think I remind you quite often that I’m not a doctor, you should read my emails to our liaison. State I’m not a doctor, repeat, state I’m not a doctor, repeat. She had the good graces to laugh at my insecurities.

The latest guideline updates have not been released yet, so both the good doctor (over 40 years as a nephrologist) and I (CKD patient and awareness advocate for a decade) were working off the draft that was released last August.

Dr. Germain also made it a point to ensure that I understand the guidelines are based upon expert opinion, not evidence. That made sense to me since he is not only a patient seeing nephrologist, but also a research nephrologist – to which his numerous publications will attest. With me being a lay person, he “had a lot of ‘splaining to do.” I had to admire his passion when discussing the vitamin D guidelines.

In the draft guidelines, it was suggested that hypercalcemia be avoided. I know; it’s a new word. We already know that hyper is a prefix meaning over or too much; think excessive in this case. Calcemia looks sort of like calcium. Good thinking because, according to Healthline at http://www.healthline.com/health/hypercalcemia:“Hypercalcemia is a condition in which you have too high a concentration of calcium in your blood. Calcium performs important functions, such as helping keep your bones healthy. However, too much of it can cause problems….”

This excerpt from What Is It and How Did I Get It? Early Stage Chronic Kidney Disease explains how calcium works with vitamin D and phosphorous.

“The kidneys produce calcitrol which is the active form of vitamin D. The kidneys are the organs that transfer this vitamin from your food and skin [sunshine provides it to your skin] into something your body can use. Both vitamin D and calcium are needed for strong bones. It is yet another job of your kidneys to keep your bones strong and healthy. Should you have a deficit of Vitamin D, you’ll need to be treated for this, in addition for any abnormal level of calcium or phosphates. The three work together. Vitamin D enables the calcium from the food you eat to be absorbed in the body. CKD may leech the calcium from your bones and body.”

The Book of Blogs: Moderate Stage Chronic Kidney Disease, Part 2 offers us more information.

“The parathyroid glands are located in the neck, near or attached to the back side of the thyroid gland. Parathyroid hormone controls calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D levels in the blood and bone. Release of PTH is controlled by the level of calcium in the blood. Low blood calcium levels cause increased PTH to be released, while high blood calcium levels block PTH release. …  Thanks to MedLine Plus at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003690.htm .”

As Dr. Germain explained, CKD patients break down vitamin D quickly since they have more of a catabolic enzyme, the enzyme that converts the vitamin D to an inactive form. Oh, right, catabolic means “any destructive process by which complex substances are converted by living cells into more simple compounds, with release of energy” according to Dorland’s Medical Dictionary for Health Consumers.

Here’s the problem: vitamin D can cause hypercalcemia. Dr. Germain phrased it, “In fact, the draft guideline recommends active vitamin D hormone therapy not to be routinely used in patients with CKD stage 3 or 4 due to increased risk of hypercalcemia and the lack of efficacy shown in studies.” Therefore, he urges nephrologists to wait until stage 4 or 5 to recommend vitamin D since hyperparathryoidism may lead to bone damage. But just as in any disease, it is harder to treat bone damage once it’s already there. His recommendation: Ask about your parathyroid level every three to six months and discuss the results of your tests with your nephrologist. By the way, his feeling – and obviously mine – is that preserving the kidney function is the most important job of the nephrologist and the patient.

I am eager to see the guidelines published so I can write more about them. The conclusion about vitamin D is based upon what nephrologists have seen in their practices since the last set of KDIGO guidelines were published in 2009. It will affect the way our nephrologists speak with us about our treatment, just as the other guidelines for 2016 will.

That will affect the way we self-manage. For example, I restrict my sun time to 15 minutes a day based on these findings. Take a look at how you self-manage. It should bring up a list of questions for you to ask your nephrologist at your next appointment.

You should also know the KDIGO deals with all stages of CKD including End Stage CKD and pediatric CKD.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

At Last: Cuba

img_4287I’ve been saying for a couple of weeks now that I would write about Cuba, or rather The Republic of Cuba since that is the country’s official title. That’s where I spent my Groundhog’s Day 70th birthday in the company of my husband, brother, and sister-in-law. By the way, whenever we travel together, they are the best part of the trip no matter what we see or where we go.

But I digress; Cuba is a beautiful country with friendly people and colorful buildings painted in those colors the government approves … in addition to free education and free medical care. Considering Cuba is a country run by The Communist Party, maybe this universal medical and education isn’t as free as we might think.

Let’s take a look at the education first since you can’t have nephrologists without education. While there is free education, you need to be loyal to the government and perform community service as the ‘price’ of receiving it. I wasn’t clear about how you demonstrated “loyal to the government,” but the Cubanos (as the Cuban people refer to themselves) politely declined to discuss this.

The education includes six years of basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic – the same 3 Rs we study in grade school in the USA. After that, there are three years of img_4006middle school with traditional school subjects that are taught pretty much anywhere. But then things change. Cubanos can attend what we might consider a traditional high school for three years or a vocational school for three years.  This is also when marching in parades and community service begins.

Nephrologists would have chosen the traditional high school. After that, there’s another five to six years of university for their medical degree. Not everyone attends university; students need to pass certain exams in order to be allowed to attend… something we’re used to hearing. So now our doctor has become a doctor. What additional education is needed to become a nephrologist?

I tried to question the people I met in ports of call, but again they declined to answer in full. From the little bit I got from them and the even less I could garner from the internet: all medical students need to do a residency in General Medicine. If you want to go on to a specialty – like Nephrology – you need to do an additional residency in that field.

Well, what about the medicine itself? What do Cubano doctors know about nephrology?

According to Radio Angulo – Cuba’s information radio – on November 23 of last year,

img_4040“The positive development of this specialty began with the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, as Dr. Charles Magrans Buch, full professor and professor emeritus, told Granma International. Magrans began practicing his profession in 1958 in the Clinico de 26, today the Joaquin Albarran Clinical-Surgical Teaching Hospital, home to the Dr. Abelardo Buch Lopez Institute of Nephrology.”

Granma International describes itself as The Official Voice of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee.

As for the quality of the medical schools,

“…Cuba trains young physicians worldwide in its Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). Since its inception in 1998, ELAM has graduated more than 20,000 doctors from over 123 countries. Currently, 11,000 young people from over 120 nations follow a career in medicine at the Cuban institution.”  You can read more about ELAM in Salim Lamrani’s blog in the 8/8/14 edition of The Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/salim-lamrani/cubas-health-care-system-_b_5649968.html

Yesterday, I stumbled upon this which is also from Granma: “The Cuban Institute of Nephrology is celebrating its 50th anniversary this December 1st, having provided more than 5,000 kidney transplants and 3,125 patients with dialysis.”

So, nephrology is not new to Cuba nor is there a dearth of opportunities to study this specialty. Keep in mind that this is government run health care. There aren’t img_4142any private clinics or hospitals in Cuba.

And how good is that health care system? This is from the 4/9/14 HavanaTimes.org:

“Boasting health statistics above all other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (and even the United States), Cuba’s healthcare system has achieved world recognition and been endorsed by the World and Pan-American Health Organizations and the United Nations.”

HavanaTimes.org is not part of the government. Some of their writers have been blacklisted, while others have been questioned. Somehow, that makes me feel more secure that their information is not the party line but more truthful. I don’t mean to say the government is dishonest, but I prefer information from private sources in this case.

Before you get your passport in order and book a trip to Cuba for medical reasons, you should know  “…it is not legal for Americans to go to Cuba as medical tourists….” This information is from Cuba Medical Travel Adviser & Guide at http://www.doctorcuba.com/. What I found curious is that it is not illegal for Cuban doctors to treat American patients in Cuba. Do Americans disguise themselves as being from other countries to obtain the low cost, high quality medical treatment Cuba has to offer? How can they do that if a passport is needed to enter the country? Maybe I’m naïve.

img_4213Cuban medicine follows a different model than that of the USA. A general (family) doctor earns about $20 a month with free housing and food.  His or her mornings are spent at the clinic with the afternoons reserved for house calls. Doctors treat patients and/or research. Preventive medicine is the norm with shortages of medication and supplies a constant problem.

You have to remember that I have limited access to information about Cuba (as does the rest of the world), and am not so certain my even more limited Spanish – which is not even Cubano Spanish – and the limited English of the Cubanos I spoke with has allowed me to fully understand the answers I was given to the questions I asked.

It’s been fun sharing what I think I learned with you since it brought the feeling of being in Cuba right back. Can you hear the music?  I’ve got to get up to dance.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!IMG_2979

It’s Unfolding Now

Remember when I was lucky enough to catch the flu just after Christmas? (She wrote sarcastically.) When I went to the Immediate Care facility my doctor is associated with, the doctor there had my records and knew I’d had pleurisy at one time. But now, he ordered a chest x-ray to check for pneumonia. What he found instead was news to me… so, of course, I’m telling you about it.

IMG_2982To quote from the final result report of the X-ray: “There is unfolding of the thoracic aorta.” Huh? In The Book of Blogs: Moderate Stage Chronic Kidney Disease, Part 1 there’s an explanation of thorax.

“What?  The what? Oh, the thorax. That’s ‘the part of the human body between the neck and the diaphragm, partially encased by the ribs and containing the heart and lungs; the chest’ according to The Free Dictionary at http://www.thefreedictionary.com/thorax.”

Thoracic is the adjective form of thorax; it describes the aorta in this case.

Do you remember what the aorta is? I sort of, kind of did, but figured I’d better make certain before I started writing about it. MedicineNet at http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=2295 was helpful here.

“The aorta gives off branches that go to the head and neck, the arms, the major organs in the chest and abdomen, and the legs. It serves to supply them all with oxygenated blood. The aorta is the central conduit from the heart to the body.”

Now I get the connection between Chronic Kidney Disease and the aorta. Did you catch “oxygenated blood” in that definition? And what organs oxygenate the blood? IMG_2980Right. Your kidneys. This excerpt from SlowItDownCKD 2015 may help.

““The National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse …explains.

‘Healthy kidneys produce a hormone called erythropoietin, or EPO, which stimulates the bone marrow to produce the proper number of red blood cells needed to carry oxygen to vital organs.  Diseased kidneys, however, often don’t make enough EPO. As a result, the bone marrow makes fewer red blood cells.’”

With me so far? Now, what the heck is an unfolded aorta? I turned to the British site for radiologists, Radiopaedia.org, at https://radiopaedia.org/articles/unfolded-aorta for the definition. “The term unfolded aorta refers to the widened and ‘opened up’ appearance of the aortic arch on a frontal chest radiograph. It is one of the more common causes for apparent mediastinal widening and is seen with increasing age.

It occurs due to the discrepancy in the growth of the ascending aorta with age, where the length of the ascending aorta increases out of proportion with diameter, causing the plane of the arch to swivel.”

thoracic-aortaI purposely left the click through definitions in so you read them for yourself. You know the drill: click on the link while holding down your control key. For those of you who are reading the print version of the blog, just add the definition of aorta to the common terms we know: arch and ascending.

Mediastinal, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mediastinum is the adjective (describing) form of mediastinum or “the space in the chest between the pleural sacs of the lungs that contains all the tissues and organs of the chest except the lungs and pleurae; also:  this space with its contents.”

Hang on there, folks, just one more definition. I searched for a new site that wouldn’t offer a terribly technical definition of pleura (or pleurae) and found verywell at https://www.verywell.com/pleura-lungs-definition-conditions-2249162.

“The pleura refers to the 2 membranes that cover the lungs and line the chest cavity. The purpose of the pleura is to cushion the lungs during respiration.

The pleural cavity is the space between these 2 membranes and contains pleural fluid.”graduation

Side note: I definitely feel like I’m back teaching a college class again.

Okay, so now we have a bunch of definitions, we’ve put them together as best we can and where does it bring us? Are you ready for this? Nowhere. An unfolding of the thoracic aorta is nothing more than a function of age.

FullSizeRender (2)However, with CKD, it’s somewhere. As was explained in What Is It and How Did I Get It? Early Stage Chronic Kidney Disease, “Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.”  We’re already not getting enough oxygen due to our poor, declining in function kidneys.

Am I concerned about the unfolding thoracic aorta? No, not at all. It happens with age; I don’t think I can do anything about that. But, the CKD that also lowers our oxygen production? Oh yes, I can – do – and will do something about that by protecting my kidneys as best I can and keeping the remaining kidney function I have.

Kidneys.com, quoted in The Book of Blogs: Moderate Stage Chronic Kidney Disease, Part 1, did a nice job of laying out a plan for me to do just that.

“Along with taking your prescribed blood pressure medications, lifestyle changes such as losing weight, exercising, meditating, eating less sodium,  drinking  less  IMG_2982alcohol  and  quitting  smoking  can  help  lower  blood pressure. Better blood pressure control helps preserve kidney function.”

I added using my sleep apnea machine and aiming for eight hours of sleep a night. I also stick to my renal diet – which limits protein, phosphorous, potassium, and sodium (as mentioned by kidney.com) – for the most part and keeping my kidneys hydrated by drinking at least 64 ounces of fluid a day.

Is it hard? I don’t know any more. It’s been nine years. They’re simply habits I’ve developed to live as long as I can and, sometimes, even raise the bottled waterfunction of my kidneys.

When my New York daughter was with us over the holidays, I realized how differently we eat than other people do. My husband has chosen to pretty much eat the way I do. So she actually had to go down to the market to pick up the foods that people ordinarily eat.  It would have been funny if I hadn’t been sick. I would have gone with her and laughed each time I answered, “No,” when she asked, “Do you eat this?”laughing

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

What Are You Doing for Others?

Today is Martin Luther King’s birthday. Today, more than ever, we need to heed his message. Whether you apply it to today’s bizarre political scene, your local community, your family, your co-workers doesn’t matter. What matters is the operant word: doing.

mlk-do-for-others

That picture and those words got me to thinking.  What AM I doing for others? And what still needs to be done?

My commitment is to spread awareness of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). As a patient myself, I know how important this is. As you know, CKD is a costly, lethal disease if not caught early and treated… and it’s not just older folks – like me – who are at risk. One out of ten people worldwide has CKD, yet an overwhelming number of them are unaware they have it.

stages of CKDWe also know the disease can be treated, just not the way you’d usually expect a disease to be treated. A diet with restrictions on protein, potassium, phosphorous and sodium is one aspect of that treatment. Exercise, adequate sleep, and avoiding stress are some of the other aspects. Some patients – like me – may have to take medication for their high blood pressure since that also affects kidney function. Imagine preventing a death with lifestyle changes. Now image saving the lives of all those who don’t know they have CKD by making them aware this disease exists. Powerful, isn’t it?

We’re all aware by now that the basic method of diagnosing CKD is via routine blood and urine tests. Yet, many people do not undergo these tests during doctor or clinic visits, so don’t know they have Chronic Kidney Disease, much less start treating it. That’s where I come in; I tell people what can be done. I tell people how they can be diagnosed and treated, if necessary.IMG_2979

I was a private person before this CKD diagnosis so many years ago. Now, in addition to a Facebook page, LinkedIn, and twitter accounts as SlowItDownCKD, I make use of an Instagram account where I post an eye catching picture daily with the hashtag #SlowItDownCKD. This brings people to my weekly blog about CKD (the one you’re reading now) and the four books I wrote about it: What Is It and How Did I Get It? Early Stage Chronic Kidney Disease (which explains CKD) and the others – The Book of Blogs: Moderate Stage Chronic Kidney Disease, Part 1; The Book of Blogs: Moderate Stage Chronic Kidney Disease, Part 2; and SlowItDownCKD 2015 – which are the blogs in print for those who don’t have a computer or are not computer savvy.

Healthline is a well-respected, informative site for medical information. This past year this blog, SlowItDownCKD, was a winner in their list of The Six Best Kidney Disease Blogs. That brought the hits on my page up by the hundreds. That means hundreds more people are now aware of Chronic Kidney Disease, how it is diagnosed, how it is treated, and how to live with it.badge_kidney-disease-1

But not everything is working as I’d hoped it would. Unfortunately, I am still not having success in having Public Service Announcements placed on television or radio. Nor have I been able to interest most general magazines or newspapers in bringing the disease to the public’s awareness.

It hasn’t totally been a wipeout there, though. Michael Garcia did interview me on The Edge Podcast and both Nutrition Action Healthletter, Center for Science in the Public Interest (the nation’s largest-circulation nutrition newsletter) and New York State United Teachers (membership 600,000) ‘It’s What We Do’ profiled my work spreading CKD Awareness. Profiling my work, interviewing me, mentioning the blog all bring awareness of Chronic Kidney Disease to the public. Awareness leads to testing. Testing leads to diagnosing. Diagnosing leads to treatment. Treatment leads to saving lives. This is why I do what I can to spread awareness of Chronic Kidney Disease.

friendsWhat about you? Can you speak about CKD with your family? Your friends? Your co-workers? Your brothers and sisters in whichever religion you follow? What about your neighbors? I was surprised and delighted at the number of non CKD friends and neighbors who follow the blog. When I asked why they did, they responded, “I have a friend….” We may all have a friend who may have CKD, whether that friend has told us yet or not.

There are more formal methods of spreading this awareness if that interests you. The National Kidney Foundation has an Advocacy Network.

“A NKF Advocate is someone who has been affected by kidney disease, donation or transplant and who wants to empower and educate others. These include people NKF-logo_Hori_OBwith kidney disease, dialysis patients, transplant recipients, living donors, donor family members, caregivers, friends and family members.

Advocacy plays an integral role in our mission. You can make a significant difference in the lives of kidney patients by representing the National Kidney Foundation. We give you the tools you need to make your voice heard.”

You can read more about this program at https://www.kidney.org/node/17759 or you can call 1.800.622.9010 for more information.

The American Kidney Fund also has an advocacy program, but it’s a bit different.

“There is strength in numbers. More than 5,100 passionate patients, friends, loved ones and kidney care professionals in our Advocacy Network are making a huge AKF logodifference on Capitol Hill and in their own communities. Together, we are fighting for policies that improve care for patients, protect patients’ access to health insurance and increase funding for kidney research. As advocates, we play a key role in educating elected officials and our communities about the impact of kidney disease.”

You can register for this network online at http://www.kidneyfund.org/advocacy/advocate-for-kidney-patients/advocacy-network/

Obviously, I’m serious about doing that which will spread awareness of CKD. You can take a gander at my website, www.gail-raegarwood.com, to see if that sparks any ideas for you as to how you can start doing something about spreading awareness of CKD, too. I urge you to do whatever you can, wherever you can, and whenever you can.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

 

Never Too Old to Learn

CoffeeCupPopCatalinStockLast week, we were delighted to have an overnight guest we hadn’t seen for a year or two. While we were all waking ourselves up the next morning, I asked him if he’d like some coffee.  Yep, he’s my family; that look of delight on his face when he thought of coffee confirmed it. Then I asked if he took milk in his coffee. Hmmm, more confirmation: he passed on the milk claiming lactose intolerance, another family trait. But when we got to the sugar question, he startled me. His response was something like no thanks, I have high cholesterol. After a moment of stunned silence, I asked why he connected cholesterol and sugar. He said his doctor told him to cut down on sugars to lower his cholesterol. Hmmm, very interesting.

This is the definition of cholesterol from What Is It and How Did I Get It? Early Stage Chronic Early Disease:FullSizeRender (2)

While the basis for both sex hormones and bile, can cause blockages if it accumulates in the lining of a blood vessel.

If that doesn’t ring a bell, here’s the definition of dyslipidemia:

Abnormal levels of cholesterol, triglyceride or both

Now we know there’s a normal and an abnormal level of cholesterol and that can’t be good. Is that a big deal?

It is if you have Chronic Kidney Disease.  Dr. Joseph Vassalotti, one of leading nephrologists in the U.S., explained it to reporter Jane Brody in an interview which is included in The Book of Blogs: Moderate Stage Chronic Kidney Disease, Part 1.

IMG_2982Good  control  of  blood  sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and body weight can delay the loss of kidney function.

I repeat, “…can delay the loss of kidney function.” That has been your ultimate goal since you were diagnosed, hasn’t it?

You may become confused by the three different kinds of cholesterol readings when you see the results of your blood tests.  I know I was, so I researched them and then wrote about them in The Book of Blogs: Moderate Stage Chronic Kidney Disease, Part 2.

HDL is High Density Lipoprotein, the cholesterol that keeps your arteries clear or – as it’s commonly called – the good cholesterol. LDL is Low Density Lipoprotein or the ‘bad’ kind that can clog your arteries. VLDL is Very Low Density Lipoprotein and one of the bad guys, too. It contains more triglycerides than protein and is big on clogging those arteries.FullSizeRender (3)

Wait a minute. Where did triglycerides come into this? According to the Mayo Clinic at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/triglycerides/ART-20048186

Triglycerides and cholesterol are separate types of lipids that circulate in your blood. Triglycerides store unused calories and provide your body with energy, and cholesterol is used to build cells and certain hormones. Because triglycerides and cholesterol can’t dissolve in blood, they circulate throughout your body with the help of proteins that transport the lipids (lipoproteins).

Still with me?  Good, because you can do something about this.

cholestero

Sometimes, it’s as simple as lifestyle changes like adjusting your diet. While I don’t agree with all of this advice, DaVita at http://www.davita.com/kidney-disease/diet-and-nutrition/diet-basics/lowering-cholesterol-with-chronic-kidney-disease/e/5304 can get you started.

  •  Avoid foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol such as whole milk, cheese and fat from meat.
  • Bake, grill, broil and roast your poultry, fish and meat. Choose lean cuts of meat and trim off any fat.
  • Eggs are an excellent source of protein, but the yolks are high in cholesterol. Try egg substitutes like Egg Beaters® or Scramblers®, or substitute two egg whites for a whole egg.
  • Eat at least two servings of fish every week. Salmon, tuna, herring and trout contain good amounts of omega-3 fatty acids that lower your risk of heart disease.
  • Try spreads like Benecol® or Take Control® in place of butter or margarine. Plant sterols and stanols in these spreads help lower cholesterol levels.
  • Choose oils that are high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats: canola, olive, peanut, corn, safflower, soybean and sunflower.
  • Read food labels and try to eliminate foods with trans-fats (found in hydrogenated oils, margarine and many commercially prepared snack foods).
  • Eat kidney-friendly fruits and vegetables.water melon

Of course, if you’re diabetic or prediabetic, you need to modify these suggestions for your diet.

As was suggested in this Everyday Health article (http://www.everydayhealth.com/high-cholesterol/fitness-and-cholesterol.aspx) included in SlowItDownCKD 2015, exercise will help.

       Try these exercise options to help shed pounds and manage high cholesterol:

  • Walking
  • Jogging or running
  • Swimming
  • Taking an aerobics class
  • Biking
  • Playing tennis, basketball, or other sports
  • Using weight machines or lifting free weights to build muscle tone

statinsIf life style changes don’t work for you, your doctor may prescribe a statin.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/statin defines this as:

any of a group of drugs (as lovastatin and simvastatin) that inhibit the synthesis of cholesterol and promote the production of LDL-binding receptors in the liver resulting in a usually marked decrease in the level of LDL and a modest increase in the level of HDL circulating in blood plasma

There are substantial arguments against taking statins, but there are also substantial arguments for taking them.  This is something you have to discuss with your doctors since you have a unique medical condition.

Finally, sugar. What did my cousin’s doctor mean about sugar’s role in lowering his cholesterol? This was news to me, so I researched. Sure enough, my cousin’s doctor was right.  According to Progressive Health at http://www.progressivehealth.com/sugar-may-be-the-cause-of-your-elevated-cholestero.htm:

Sugar is a good example of a carbohydrate with high glycemic index. It can, therefore, increase the amount of small, dense LDL particles in the blood.

Although, health experts used to advocate that we cut the amount of sugar we consume because high blood sugar can cause insulin resistance and increase the risk of diabetes, there is now another reason to cut down on our sugar consumption.sugar

A number of studies show that sugar can affect the kind and amount of cholesterol released into the blood.

So? According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4297703/

That’s a pretty big ‘so.’

Until next week,

Enjoy your life!

Medical Individuals

FullSizeRender (2)We all know I write about Chronic Kidney Disease, or CKD, but just what is that? When I wrote What Is It and How Did I Get It? Early Stage Chronic Kidney Disease six years ago, I defined CKD as “Damage to the kidneys for more than three months, which cannot be reversed but may be slowed.” Although I’m not so sure about that “cannot be reversed” any more, this is simple, right?

Well, not exactly. Over the years, many readers have pointed out that they have another form of kidney disease. According to University Kidney Research Organization (UKRO) @ http://ukrocharity.org/kidney-disease/different-types-of-kidney-diseases/, these are all considered kidney disease:

Wait a minute. Chronic means of long duration. Then with the exception (hopefully) of kidney stones, these diseases can all be classified as CKD… but are they when it comes to treatment?

Dr. Joel Topf is a nephrologist who writes a blog of his own (Precious Bodily Fluids @pbfluids.com) and is a member of the eAJKD Advisory Board at American Journal of Kidney Disease. He must make great use of his time because he has helped develop teaching games for nephrology students and has written medical works. (Yeah, I’m impressed with him, too.)

He’s also a Twitter friend. He contacted me the other day about an article in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology entitled “The CKD Classification System in the Precision Medicine Era,” which was written by Yoshio N. Hall and Jonathan Himmelfarb. You can read it for yourself on their site, but you’ll need to join it and get yourself a user name and password. I didn’t. Joel sent me the copy I needed.

cjasn

My first reaction to his request was, “Sure!” Then I read the article and wondered if I could handle all the medicalese in it. Several readings later, I see why he asked me to write about it.

I say I have CKD stage 3B. You understand what I mean. So does my nephrologist. That’s due to the KDOQI. As I explained in The Book of Blogs: Moderate Stage Chronic Kidney Disease, Part 2, this is The National Kidney Foundation Kidney Disease Outcomes FullSizeRender (3)Quality Initiative which was not put into place until 1997 and then updated only five years later in 2002. It introduced stages and put CKD on the world medical map. By the way, the 2012 revised guidelines helped raised awareness of CKD according to the CJASN article: “…from 4.7% to 9.2% among persons with CKD stages 3 and 4 in the United States ….”

But something is missing. How can my stage 3 CKD be the same for someone who has, say, Nephrotic Syndrome? We may have the same GFR, but are our symptoms the same? Is the progression of our illnesses the same? What about our treatment? Our other test results?

Whoops! A certain someone looking over my shoulder as I type reminded me I need to define GFR. I especially like Medline Plus’s definition that I used in SlowItDownCKD 2015:

“Glomerular filtration rate (GFR) is a test used to check how well the kidneys are working. Specifically, it estimates how much blood passes IMG_2980through the glomeruli each minute. Glomeruli are the tiny filters in the kidneys that filter waste from the blood.”

I know, I know, I didn’t explain what “the Precision Medicine Era” is, either. According to the article, “The underlying concept behind the Precision Medicine Initiative is that disease prevention and treatment strategies must take individual variability into account.” Actually, President Obama first used the term in his State of the Union Address last year.

Alrighty now, back to why CKD staging is not necessarily precision medicine. It seems to center on one phrase – individual variability. I was diagnosed at age 60. I’m now almost 70. Where is the age adjustment in my treatment plan? Is there one? What about when I’m 80? 90? We know the body reacts differently to medications as we age. Is my nephrologist taking this into account? Is yours? I’m taking liberties with the definition of individual here; I don’t think the authors meant within the individual, but rather amongst individuals.

I check my husband’s blood test results for his GFR. FOR HIS AGE, he does not have CKD. But here’s another point I’ve been ranting about that’s brought up in this article. Many elders (Oh my! We’re in that category already.) are not being told if they have stage 1 or stage 2 CKD because their doctors age adjust and so don’t consider the results CKD. We’re getting a little esoteric here. Is CKD really CKD if you’ve age adjusted your GFR readings?

My brain is starting to hurt and I haven’t even written about the different diseases yet, although I did allude to them earlier. What impressed me most in this article is this (in discussing four different hypothetical patients): “Each would be classified as having stage 3 CKD with approximately the same eGFR, but it is patently obvious that virtually every aspect of clinical decision making … would greatly differ in caring for these four individuals.”

I have to agree in my layman way. I’m not a doctor, but I know that if you have Polycystic Kidney Disease and I don’t, although our GFR is the same, I cannot receive the same treatment you do and you cannot receive the same treatment I do. Yes, they’re both kidney diseases and both chronic, but they are not the same disease despite our having the same GFR.

stages of CKDThere is no one size fits all here. Nor does there yet seem to be precision. My CKD at 70 is not the same as it was at 60. If I had diabetes, my CKD treatment would be different, too.  I do have hypertension and that has already changed my CKD treatment.

This got me to thinking. How would every nephrologist find the time for this individualized treatment for each CKD patient? And what other tests will each patient need to determine treatment based on his/her UNIQUE form of CKD?IMG_2982

Thanks for the suggestion, Dr. Topf. This was worth writing about.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

 

A Change is Gonna Come… Or is It?

This has been a confusing week here in the United States. You see, we have a new president-elect. I’m not going to deal with politics in today’s blog, but rather some of the fears we have concerning our health care under this new president. We are Chronic Kidney Disease patients and we have heard so many conflicting rumors.

Let’s start off with a little reassurance in this confusing time. CBS’s Lesley Stahl interviewed President-elect Donald Trump on 60 Minutes yesterday.

youtubeFor those of us who might need some background, CBS is the Columbia Broadcasting System which, of course (It is 2016, after all.), now includes videos as well as live television. You can also find them on YouTube via the specific show’s title. You can hear parts of the interview I wrote about at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XSo0cH7X1E&t=43s.

According to IMDb (which describes itself as “…the world’s most popular and authoritative source for movie, TV and celebrity content….”) 60 Minutes is:

The oldest and most-watched newsmagazine (sic) on television gets the real story on America’s most prevalent issues. CBS News correspondents contribute segments to each hour long episode…..” 60-minutes

And who is Lesley Stahl?  Bio.com at http://www.biography.com/people/lesley-stahl-20871751 tells us, “Lesley Stahl is an award-winning television journalist. She’s served as co-editor of 60 Minutes and anchored the news program 48 Hours Investigates.” 

These are not my usual sources, nor is this my usual sort of blog. However, it’s the necessary blog today.

Following is the segment of her interview with the president-elect about Obamacare which you may know as the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“Lesley Stahl: Let me ask you about Obamacare, which you say you’re going to repeal and replace. When you replace it, are you going to make sure that people with pre-conditions are still covered?

Donald Trump: Yes. Because it happens to be one of the strongest assets.

lesley-stahlStahl: You’re going to keep that?

Trump: Also, with the children living with their parents for an extended period, we’re gonna–

Stahl: You’re gonna keep that–

Trump: Very much try and keep that. Adds cost, but it’s very much something we’re going to try and keep.

Stahl: And there’s going to be a period if you repeal it and before you replace it, when millions of people could lose -– no?

Trump: No, we’re going to do it simultaneously. It’ll be just fine. We’re not going to have, like, a two-day period and we’re not going to have a two-year period where there’s nothing. It will be repealed and replaced. And we’ll know. And it’ll be great healthcare for much less money. So it’ll be better healthcare, much better, for less money. Not a bad combination.”

Is he definitive? Is he absolute? No, but what makes this hopeful is that during his campaign he announced, “On day one of the Trump Administration, we will ask Congress to immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare.” Thank you to Trump’s campaign website at https://www.donaldjtrump.com/positions/healthcare-reform  for this quote. We can see the softening of that position in the 60 Minutes interview.

IMG_2979

We have pre-existing conditions. We cannot abide with a presidency that doesn’t support healthcare which allows for this. I did say this would be a non-political blog, so no more adamancy from me… if I can help it.

What does the president-elect say about Medicare? Most of us over 65 (That’s me.) have Medicare as our primary insurance. I am lucky enough to have a secondary insurance through my union. How many of the rest of us are? By the way, if Medicare doesn’t pay, neither does my secondary.

Here’s what Trump had to say about Medicare in a rally in Iowa on December 11th of last year:

“So, you’ve been paying into Social Security and Medicare…but we are not going to cut your Social Security and we’re not cutting your Medicare….”download

A little clarification is in order. According to their website at Medicare.gov, “Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people who are 65 or older, certain younger people with disabilities, and people with End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a transplant, sometimes called ESRD).” Then there’s Medicaid. “Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that helps with medical costs for some people with limited income and resources. Medicaid also offers benefits not normally covered by Medicare, like nursing home care and personal care services,” according to their website at Medicare.gov.

But then I found the following in a Forbes article by Janet Novack on 11/10/16 at http://www.forbes.com/sites/janetnovack/2016/11/10/will-president-trump-cut-medicare-and-social-security-as-well-as-taxes/#7115535a43f1

“… two big spending cuts Trump has endorsed— a House Republican plan to cut Medicaid spending by $500 billion over a decade by turning it into a capped “block grant” payment to the states and the “penny a year” plan, which requires that all non-defense, discretionary spending be cut 1% a forbesyear in nominal terms, saving $750 billion over a decade (without, conveniently, spelling out which programs would get chopped).”

I admit it. I am in over my head. Does this mean that while Medicare will pay if you have ESRD, you still may be on the hook for personal care services IF Trump’s capped block grant payment to states comes into being? Does it mean dialysis will be covered, but possibly not a nursing home stay necessitated by something secondary to your dialysis?

I don’t have ESRD, but Medicare (and my secondary insurance) covers my labs and nephrologist’s appointments. Let’s say the cap goes through, I have a UTI – heaven forbid – that causes me to need a nurse (I know, I’m stretching the issue.), but my income has gone way down. Will Medicaid be available?

While I meant to write a reassuring blog today, I think I’ve raised more issues to question instead. I am not a politician, nor am I politically savvy. BUT, I am a Chronic Kidney Disease patient who needs some kind of reassurance that I won’t be left without the coverage I need.stages of CKD

Hey, that’s another thing: whatever happened to Trump’s campaign promise about letting us order less expensive medications from other countries? Did I miss the update on that one?

Until next week,

Keep living your life!