Dead People

Hmmm, maybe that title should read “Famous People Who Died from Kidney Disease.” Let’s go back a bit to see what I’m talking about. By now you know my youngest married on the 6th of this month. Thank you to everyone who sent their best wishes. She and her husband did a wonderful job of creating the wedding they wanted, just as the new Mr. & Mrs. Nielson are doing a terrific job of creating the life they want together.

Of course, her sister came out from New York to join the festivities. As usual, she stayed with Bear and me. That gave us plenty of time to gab between the pre-wedding potluck at my house and all the preparations for the wedding. At one point, I casually mentioned to her that Jean Harlow died of kidney disease. That fascinated Nima for some reason. As I explained the how and why, she asked me why I hadn’t yet written a blog about famous people who died from kidney disease.

At first, I thought it a bit macabre but then I rethought that. My new thinking ran along the line of, “What a perfect blog for Halloween week.” By the way, that’s my brother’s birthday and there is nothing spooky about him. Oh, our preconceptions.

Back to Jean Harlow. For those of you who don’t know, she was not only an American film actress during the 1930s, but a sex symbol as well.

This is from the official Jean Harlow website at

“While filming Saratoga in 1937, Jean was hospitalized with uremic poisoning and kidney failure, a result of the scarlet fever she had suffered during childhood. In the days before dialysis and kidney transplants, nothing could be done and Jean died on June 7, 1937.”

A couple of reminders:

Uremic poisoning is what we now call uremia. This type of poisoning happens when the kidneys can’t filter your blood.

Kidney failure means your kidneys don’t work anymore. One of their jobs is to filter urea from your blood so that it doesn’t build up resulting in uremia.

As for the scarlet fever, “In general, appropriately diagnosed and treated scarlet fever results in few if any long-term effects. However, if complications develop for whatever reason, problems that include kidney damage, hepatitis, vasculitis, septicemia, congestive heart failure, and even death may occur.“ (Courtesy of MedicineNet at

Dialysis was invented in 1943 by Dr. Willem Kolff. It wasn’t until the 1950s before it was perfected, but for Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) only. To make matters worse, few machines were available. Dr. Belding Scribner then developed a shunt to make dialysis effective for End Stage Renal Disease patients. In other words, not only those with short term kidney injuries, but also those whose kidneys were shutting down permanently. It wasn’t until 1962 that he opened the first outpatient dialysis unit. Later on, he developed the portable dialysis machines.

Keep those years in mind. Keep in mind also that there was no dialysis or transplantation when these people died of kidney disease.

You may remember the blog I wrote about the Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He died of kidney failure back in 1792… way before dialysis or transplantation.

Transplantation? You’re right; I haven’t defined it yet. You cannot live without a functioning kidney unless you are on dialysis OR a new kidney – either from a cadaver or a life donor – is placed in your body. It is not a cure for kidney failure, but a treatment. Transplantees take anti-rejection medications for the rest of their lives.

Have you heard of Sarah Bernhardt? She was a French stage actress who died of kidney disease in 1923. She’d also been a silent screen actress, but reportedly didn’t care for film acting. Notice the year.

Emily Dickinson, the celebrated American poet died of Bright’s disease in 1886. (She was still alive during Portal of Time. I wonder if Jesse read her work?) Oh, you forgot what Bright’s disease is? No problem. New-Medical Net at tells us it is “… a historical term that is not currently in use. It referred to a group of kidney diseases – in modern medicine, the condition is described as acute or chronic nephritis.”

It would make sense to define nephritis now. The suffix “itis” means inflammation of and “neph” refers to the kidneys. So, nephritis is an inflammation of the kidneys and can be due to a number of causes.

Let’s not forget the great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. He moved to London at 20 years old and became a critic and political activist as well. You’ve heard of the play ‘My Fair Lady’? It was based on his ‘Pygmalion’. He died of kidney disease just before he might have been saved… in 1950.

I think the one who surprised me the most was Buffalo Bill Cody. He was not just the leader of his wild West show, but also a bison hunter, scout (as in finding the way for wagon trains), gold rush participant, possibly a Pony Express rider, and actor. He died in 1917 of kidney failure.

Other famous people who have died of kidney disease include Art Tatum, Color Porter, Douglas MacArthur, Alex Karras, Manute Bol, Ernest Borgnine, Don DeLuise, Art Buchwald, Norman Mailer, Sandra Dee, Barry White, Erma Bombeck, Marlene Dietrich, and Laurence Olivier.

This blog is not meant to scare the wits out of you. Well, maybe it is in a way. Famous people from all walks of life – athletes, writers, actors, musicians, singers, military members, and others – have died of kidney disease. Many before the invention of dialysis and transplantation. Some of kidney disease in combination of other diseases. And some because they didn’t know they had kidney disease.

My point? If you belong to any of the high risk groups for kidney disease, get yourself tested. We’re talking simple blood and urine tests here. The high risk groups are “diabetes, hypertension and a family history of kidney disease. African Americans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and Seniors.” Thank you to the National Kidney Center at for this list.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

Good, Bad or Unnecessary?

When I came home from Portland, I had this crazy desire to clean – although Bear always keeps the house in pristine condition when I’m gone.  I tried to ignore it, but that didn’t work.  So, I cleaned, right down to cleaning out the articles I keep for the blog.  Of course, being me, I had to read each one before I trashed it. Lo and behold, I started seeing a pattern with some of them.

On Halloween of last year [my brother, Paul Peck’s birthday, by the way], this article appeared.  By the end of the blog, you’ll be able to figure out if it was a trick or a treat.

FDA staff say Merck’s Vytorin helps kidney patients

(Reuters) – U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviewers said Merck’s cholesterol-lowering drug Vytorin was effective in reducing the rate of heart attacks or other cardiovascular problems in patients with kidney disease.

The FDA reviewers also said Merck’s blockbuster drug, which pairs a new type of cholesterol fighter Zetia with Merck’s older statin drug Zocor, is unlikely to cause or promote cancer.

But, as I read further in the article, I found that Vytorin contained the generic drug simvastatin which had already been approved to lower cholesterol.

You can read the entire article at:

Something nagged at me, so I went to to check out Vytorin.  This is what I found there:

What is Vytorin?

Vytorin contains a combination of ezetimibe and simvastatin.

Vytorin is used to treat high cholesterol in adults and children who are at least 10 years old.

Ezetimibe reduces the amount of cholesterol absorbed by the body.

Simvastatin is in a group of drugs called HMG CoA reductase inhibitors, or “statins.” Simvastatin reduces levels of “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) and triglycerides in the blood, while increasing levels of “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL).

[Another of Vytorin’s original claims had been that it attacks both genetic and life habit causes of hyperlipidemia.  Remember those tv ads about whether what you ate or Uncle Frank’s genes caused your high cholesterol?  That’s where this claim was made.]

As I kept reading, I found two disturbing warnings:

  1. In rare cases, simvastatin can cause a condition that results in the breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue, leading to kidney failure. This condition may be more likely to occur in older adults and in people who have kidney disease or poorly controlled hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).
  2. Avoid eating foods that are high in fat or cholesterol. Vytorin will not be as effective in lowering your cholesterol if you do not follow a cholesterol-lowering diet plan.

So a pill that combats high cholesterol on both fronts – genetics and life habits – still requires a life habit change [diet] but could kill CKD patients when given to them to avoid heart problems.  I was not happy.

But it gets even weirder [Did you know Portland’s city motto is “Keep Portland Weird”?] Remember that simvastatin supposedly lowers bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol and that simvastatin is the generic drug in Vytorin.

‘Good’ cholesterol’s heart benefits challenged

Drugs to raise HDL can’t be assumed to reduce heart attack risk

CBC News

Posted: May 17, 2012 3:46 PM ET

Having naturally high levels of “good” cholesterol doesn’t lower the risk of heart attacks as believed.

LDL cholesterol is referred to as “bad” cholesterol because when there’s too much, it promotes the build-up of plaque in artery walls.

HDL cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol because higher concentrations have been associated with lower risk of heart attacks in observational studies.

The hoped for benefits of increasing high-density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol for lowering heart attack risk haven’t panned out in randomized trials of experimental drugs.

According to conventional wisdom, those who inherit genetic variants for higher HDL levels should have lower cardiovascular risk. When researchers tested 116,000 people, they found 2.6 per cent of them were genetically

This article’s address is:

So you may be taking a drug prescribed to treat your hyperlipidemia but it doesn’t matter if your good cholesterol is raised, even though that’s one of Merck’s [the manufacturer] claims.  In addition, it is possible that this drug prescribed to prevent heart problems in CKD patients may kill them. Why do I get the sinking feeling that this is business as usual for the drug industry?

On another note, several medical personnel I met in Portland brought the book into their hospital.  Thank you Kenyon Decker and Corinna Bayer for bringing the book to Portland VA Medical Center.  Mark Anderson was kind enough to bring the book to the attention of the Oregon Urology Institute, while Marc Overbeck, the director of Oregon Primary Care Office at the

Office for Oregon Health Policy & Research introduced the book there. Dr. Greg Nigh’s wife (who neglected to give me her name, unfortunately) took the book to her husband Nature Cures Clinic, LLC. Another nurse, a Reiki master and others took the book to share with their practices.  Landmark people are wonderful when it comes to doing good works!  If you were one of these unnamed people, leave a comment and I’d be more than glad to get your name in print by way of a thank you.

Unfortunately, I need to report that the medical bracelet I am so unhappy with is now thoroughly discolored – something else that was not mentioned before I bought it.  I would notify the company but am lax to do so since they didn’t respond to any of my other emails.

Also, if you’d like to leave a comment, please don’t use your work address.  WordPress classifies it as spam and even though I go through all the comments, without a working email address I am not confident that WordPress has made a mistake.  In other words, make sure there’s a working email with your comment so it doesn’t get lost in the spam folder.

Wow, this was a long one.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!