The month of March is National Kidney Month. Before you turn the page in a big yawn, think of what these organs do for you and where you'd be if they stopped.
• Using millions of filters called nephrons they clean wastes from your body.
• Balance electrolytes
• Regulate blood pressure
• Secrete hormones to maintain strong bones and up-to-par red blood cells.
If your kidneys stop working and you have no backup, you are not long for this world. I met someone whose mother complained of fatigue but just shook it off as what comes with a life of hard work. Then she found herself in the hospital for a broken arm and they happened to find her kidney function near zero. She could have died at any moment and never known what was wrong.
If you are tired for extended purposes, don't ignore it. Don't be a suffering martyr. Get checked. It might be a warning of kidney failure.
If you have a family or personal history of diabetes, high blood pressure, overweight and/or heart disease, then you may be at risk of kidney disease. By the way, once those nephrons start flying off the kidneys like tiles off a roof, they don't grow back. The more of those that are damaged, the worse your kidney damage and lower your kidney function. You want to keep those things nailed to the roof.
As I approach the second anniversary of my kidney transplant, curing me of chronic kidney disease, I can reflect on the origins of my condition, which began with a kidney stone surgery as a small child gone wrong, stunting the growth of one kidney for life. As I grew up, it would atrophy or stop working. Imagine a five-year-old's kidney in a 250-pound man? A losing battle, Not paying enough attention to what I put into my mouth would lead to the diabetes that weakens most kidneys and brought down my remaining organ. Too much meat. Too much sugar. Not enough thought.
I reversed that process in the months leading to my 2011 transplant, which is how I tolerated it so well. Much better diet and continuous exercise. I'm very conscious of everything I swallow, both food and drink. The transplant continues as a total success and I do what I need to do to keep it that way as I'm determined not to go back where I was.
A number of us know someone on dialysis. A mechanical process to copy, though very imperfectly, a kidney's filtering functions. I can't think of anyone who would choose to be on dialysis three days a week, four hours a day, if they could avoid it. How can you avoid it? By being the boss of your body. Treat it like you would a fine car. Look for the nutrients that'll keep you running smooth, not clog you up.
Stretch it out on the open road (exercise). Bring good things to your body and keep the bad things to a minimum. We've all heard the saying “be good to your car, it'll be good to you.” How much truer is that for your body? Preventative maintenance on the body, like a car, never ends. You take action when the oil light flashes, tires go low, strange sounds ring under the hood. It sure beats the cost and stress of a fix-up cure – while it can still be saved. If that car is worth it, aren't you?
Yuman Mike Shelton is a survivor of a kidney transplant.