I can’t remember a day when I didn’t have chronic kidney disease (CKD). I was diagnosed 21 years ago, at age 3. Until my first transplant at age 11, being and feeling sick was my normal. Though I no longer had the rigid dietary restrictions and overwhelming fatigue of my pre-transplant life, my preteen and teenage years were plagued by rejection episodes, infections, surgeries, and hospital stays. Many, many times I asked, “Why me?” I longed to be a normal teenager instead of a dialysis patient. I felt embarrassed and ashamed of this disease, and I hated the daily reminders of the unjust sentence I’d been handed.
After my second transplant at age 17, I actually felt healthy, like a normal person, and I never wanted to look back. I saw my newest kidney as a cure—like my wish had come true—and went about my life pretending I was normal. I took my medicines, had my blood work done regularly, and saw my doctors, but I didn’t think about my kidney. I was fixed. I could finally live my life.
I graduated from high school, went away to my dream college, traveled across Europe, graduated with a bachelor’s degree, and even got married! It wasn’t until I became pregnant with my daughter that I took a closer look at my disease; I realized that it’s not just about me anymore and that I needed to take a serious look at what I could do take better care of this kidney that had given me a life I’d once only dreamed I could have. I knew I had to change.
I had to make a choice: to continue ignoring my condition and passively hope I stayed healthy forever or to do whatever I could within my power to take the very best care of myself for the sake of my daughter.
The healthiest choice I’ve ever made was to accept my disease—to accept the fact that I’ll have it for as long as I live and that it’s my responsibility to take the very best care of myself possible—and to look at my life as a success and not a tragedy. It was a choice to be grateful for this gift of life and to honor my family, donors, doctors, and nurses. It was the choice that has dictated nearly every single choice I’ve made from that day forward. From simply choosing healthier foods to choosing to maintain healthy relationships, and from choosing to foster a positive outlook on life to choosing to maintain an exercise regimen, all areas of my life have been improved. They’ve improved not despite my condition, but because of it. Living with CKD has made me an active advocate for health and wellness and especially kidney disease awareness.
Today, I have a wonderful, supportive husband, a beautiful daughter, a son on the way, and the strength of a patient with kidney disease! I have the opportunity to share my story. I hope to motivate others within the CKD community to be active in their care, to engage with their doctors, to ask questions, to make healthy choices, and to share their stories as well. I also hope to inspire others to become more involved in funding research into kidney disease and offer support to patients with CKD and their families. I want to raise awareness about organ donation and to be a living example of how one’s life can be completely changed by the amazing gift of life. I want to give back to this community that has saved my life too many times to count.
I know I may very well find myself back in a dialysis clinic someday, and if that day comes, I’m prepared to choose to embrace my struggle. CKD has made me a fighter, and there’s a lot to fight for.
Riley Pummill lives in Christiansburg, Virginia
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