Why Wait?

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Joe Russell. He works on health care policy issues for my Arizona Senator Sinema in Washington D.C., along with his colleague Sylvia Lee, policy advisor. He was letting me know both Sylvia and he would be in Arizona the following week, and holding a roundtable discussion with patients suffering from kidney disease, along with their providers, caregivers, and family members. They wanted to discuss a series of legislative proposals their office would be working on in the coming months, as well as gain a better understanding of the unique challenges patients with kidney disease face in Arizona. The National Kidney Foundation of Arizona recommended they reach out to me, given my work and experience on this topic.

Are you kidding, I thought. I’ve been trying to get someone in Arizona interested in the growth of CKD locally… and, of course, everywhere else, for over 12 years. Now, mind you, by 3:30 I’m exhausted (Damn chemo!), but I vowed to go even though it was later in the day (3 p.m.). And I did.

When I arrived, who did I see sitting at Senator Sinema’s table, but Raymond and Analyn Scott. They are the compilers of The 1 in 9 Tribe to which I had contributed a chapter. There were people from the National Kidney Foundation of Arizona, a transplant patient, my very own nephrologist (who is also Raymond’s) and Senator Sinema’s delegation.

Oh boy, I remember thinking, this is going to be good. And it was. Each person spoke to their own stage of CKD with Dr. DeSai (Raymond’s and my nephrologist) and the National Kidney Foundation of Arizona people speaking about all stages of CKD. I kept steering the discussion back to early stage treatment and awareness for all. It seemed all were in agreement with my ideas or, at least, they were interested.

But I want to let you know why I feel early intervention and general awareness are so important. This is a note I received from a reader.

”Please help. I just got blood results back from my yearly physical and saw that my eGFR was 55 and my creatinine was 1.09. After speaking to my GP she told me my results were nothing to ‘be concerned about’. Since the 2 above mentioned results were highlighted in red I figured perhaps I should ‘concern’ myself about it and research what it could possibly mean. I was shocked to read that it indicated kidney disease. When I told my doctor of my findings, she again pushed it off as nothing to worry about. Am I over reacting? Thanks for any help you can give me.”

Now we don’t know this reader’s age. That’s important because you lose one point off your Glomerular Filtration Rate every year once you hit the age of 40. For example, I turned 73 yesterday (Yes, it was a fun birthday with my family and friends despite the effects of chemo.). Subtract 40 from that and I have lost 33 points off my GFR simply by being alive and growing older. Considering the highest GFR is 120, although we usually use 100 for ease of figuring, my perfect GFR would be 87. But it’s not. It’s 55, so we know I have CKD, stage 3A just like this reader.

Nuts! I’m going on and on as if everyone reading this knew both what GFR is and the stages of CKD. Well, we’ll just correct that right now. According to MedlinePlus, part of the U.S. National Library of Medicine which, in turn, is part of the National Institutes of Health, at https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007305.htm.

Glomerular filtration rate

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

How the Test is Performed

blood sample is needed.

The blood sample is sent to a lab. There, the creatinine level in the blood sample is tested. Creatinine is a chemical waste product of creatine. Creatine is a chemical the body makes to supply energy, mainly to muscles.

The lab specialist combines your creatinine level with several other factors to estimate your GFR. Different formulas are used for adults and children. The formula includes some or all of the following:

  • Age
  • Blood creatinine measurement
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Height
  • Weight”

Nor do we know the reader’s ethnicity. The National Kidney Foundation at https://www.kidney.org/sites/default/files/docs/12-10-4004_abe_faqs_aboutgfrrev1b_singleb.pdf explains why this is important:

“This is due to higher average muscle mass and creatinine generation rate in African Americans.”

So, why then, is it important to know if you’re only in stage 2 of CKD? Let me put it this way:

When I was first diagnosed with CKD, I was at a GFR of 39. That’s pretty low. Had I been tested earlier, I would have had more time to preserve more of my kidney function. While I’m now at about 55 GFR (just like my reader), it took years and years of hard work as far as diet, exercise, rest, sleep, avoiding anxiety, not drinking or smoking and making sure I paid special attention to my labs.

Imagine if I had known earlier that I had CKD. I could have started protecting my kidneys earlier, which may have meant I could avoid dialysis for longer… or maybe at all. It may have meant I wouldn’t reach the place where I needed a transplant, if I ever needed one.

If you are routinely checked via a blood test and urine test each time you see your family doctor – just like your heart and lungs are checked – you may be able to avoid being told you were in need of dialysis seemingly out of the blue. But you wouldn’t know to ask for these tests unless everyone is made aware of CKD and just how prevalent it is. Think about it.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!