Imagine a giant bowl of hot, crispy French fries freshly sprinkled with salt and maybe even a little bit of melted cheese and bacon on top. Now imagine a countless number of packets of ketchup, or whatever your favorite seasoning is, next to it. Is your mouth salivating already? Mine is. Unfortunately, most of the time, all I can do is that: just imagine. I live my life remembering that there are certain foods I must stay away from for my own health and well-being. You see, I manage my life around the fact that I have something called kidney failure. People with kidney failure cannot eat what others with good kidney function can.
What are kidneys, and what do they do? They are two bean-shaped organs that filter the blood every minute, removing waste products and extra water through urine. They maintain healthy electrolytes, control blood pressure, produce the hormone erythropoietin, and eliminate toxins from the body. Without kidneys, it is impossible for the body to function normally. When they fail, your body fills up with extra water and waste products. This is called uremia. Your hands and feet will swell. You will feel tired and weak. Your body needs clean blood to function properly.
There are two treatments for kidney failure: dialysis and kidney transplantation. Dialysis is a procedure that uses a machine and a special filter called an artificial kidney to clean the blood. A kidney transplant is an operation that takes a healthy kidney and transfers it into your body. Anyone can be a kidney donor because people can live long, healthy lives with just one of these organs.
I am on dialysis, and I must follow the kidney diet. How do I thrive regardless of what I can or cannot eat? I think of my body. I want to be as healthy as possible, and to do that I have to eat well. I eat foods low in sodium, potassium, and phosphorous, but high in protein. It is important that dialysis patients get protein because we tend to lose blood during our dialysis treatments.
Sometimes, I feel like eating something I shouldn’t, but I think about the harm it could cause me and I eat something else instead. I will not lie. It is difficult, and it can get boring, but recently I started searching online for kidney diet recipes and found many alternatives to the delicious foods I love. For example, I cannot eat pizza because it is extremely high in phosphorus and sodium, but I found an alternative. It is a homemade version, and it tastes amazing. The best part is that it is low in all three electrolytes, but rich in protein, which is what I need. I have found many more good recipes that help me modify the foods I crave without causing elevated levels of electrolytes in my body.
I don’t use salt for cooking. I use salt-free seasonings and lime instead. These make the food taste great! In my opinion, there is not much difference. These days have been extremely hot in Miami, and if you are a kidney dialysis patient, you know you cannot have ice cream. So, I make my own popsicles. They are very refreshing, especially during the summer. Sometimes I get so thirsty that I can’t help but drink a bottle of water. Between treatments I suck on ice, fruit, and candy to make sure I don’t gain too much fluid weight. I brush my teeth and rinse with mouthwash.
This is how I thrive, no matter what I can or cannot eat. I find the fun in this difficult situation and this is how I win and succeed at the same time! You see, it’s not that bad once you learn to look at the bright side of things. I used to ask myself, “How do I do it? How do I live with kidney failure?” The answer is simple—I believe in myself. I know I can do anything if I want to; I can succeed as long as I don’t give up. There’s no reason for me to fail. The things in life that make us suffer, at the same time make us succeed. It is because of the pain we endure that we become capable and sure of ourselves. It is through our daily struggles that we achieve success. Living with kidney failure and being on dialysis isn’t easy or fun, but it’s not that bad when you learn to care for yourself while enjoying life and doing the things you love.
Stay hopeful, take care of yourself, play great music, and celebrate your bravery, and you too can thrive on the kidney diet!
After losing her second transplanted kidney, Yessenia Gutiérrez had to start dialysis again. She goes to the Fresenius Dialysis Center in West Kendall, FL. She goes three times a week for four hours. She was born with poly-cystic kidney disease and since then has been trying to find a good kidney. She is also a liver recipient. Fortunately, her liver is fine. What keeps Yessenia motivated throughout the struggles is writing. Writing is her life, it is her passion. She loves to read and dance too. Yessenia is one of the strongest people I know. There is never a day when she feels tired, even after her dialysis treatments she still smiles and does all her chores. She enjoys taking long walks, watching horror movies, and playing with her dogs. Her dream is to become a writer / screenwriter and inspire people around the world. Yessenia doesn’t let kidney disease get in the way of her life. She stays confident and courageous, keeps doing what she loves most, and stays happy no matter what. Right now, she only wants one thing. A kidney, but not just any kidney, one that will match her perfectly. One that will last her many years. One that will change her life!
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