We Are Well: A DaVita Teammate Shares Her Transplant Story and Path to Health
This is the first installment of a series that will tell the stories of DaVita’s 2019 We Are Well Award winners, in their own words. The We Are Well Award recognizes teammates who have worked to improve their physical, social and emotional health, often using DaVita-sponsored wellness programs.
Imagine being 19 years old, first year in college, and all of the sudden unable to walk—this happened to me. Bacterial meningitis led me to a month in the hospital and months of recovery. Six months later, I blew up like a balloon and all of the sudden gained 40 pounds in a matter of weeks. What caused this? End stage renal disease by systemic lupus erythematosus. Fluid buildup was all throughout my body, making a couple of steps feel like I completed a marathon. Eventually, I crashed into the hospital and started hemodialysis.
Understanding what I needed to do with a stringent medication regimen, changing my diet, and maintaining my doctor’s appointments to make myself feel better and be on the transplant list is what motivated me to grab a hold of the situation at hand. I knew the path to my recovery was not only going to be tough for me, but equally as tough for those who cared for me the most. Right there is the thing most take for granted while they are healthy: the simple fact that your loved ones will sympathize with you and suffer alongside you. Watching others trying their hardest to make my life a little easier also encouraged me to put forth my entire effort into improving my condition. That experience led me to become the person I am today—a DaVita renal dietitian eager to help and motivate patients on dialysis – as well as friends and family – to become the best version of themselves.
Now that you know what happened, you need to know how I climbed out of the vast and dark cavern where the light at the end, my recovery, felt so far away. The improbability of reaching this insurmountable pinnacle seemed impossible at the time. With kidney failure, I had chronic fatigue, nausea, vomiting, weakness, pain, and what I hate to admit, pity for myself about what I was going through. Simple normal activities, such as preparing meals, cleaning and walking around the house, took so much effort that feeling completely drained became my norm. I knew I dreaded feeling this way, but how could I fix it? I didn’t want any visual signs of being ill. I wanted to feel better and prevent any further illness, and I wanted to take my life back.
I knew if I was going to beat the odds, I needed to make some drastic, lifelong changes. Taking responsibility of my health and my future is where I took those first steps. In regards to my health, doctors and health professionals’ feedback helped me gauge areas that needed to be addressed. My dietitian, who was always so welcoming and warm, helped me so much mentally and physically that I knew I wanted to become a registered dietitian to help others the same way she helped me. Therefore, my professional goals completely changed, and I switched my major from accounting to dietetics because of this experience. Comprehending what can happen if labs are continually under or above the goal encouraged me even more to consume foods on the renal diet and be adherent with my medications.
Now, I have been transplanted for eleven years, I work with my former dietitian Karen and I still continue to strive my best for optimal health to encourage others that it is possible to thrive when the world seems against you. I continue to follow the dietary recommendations. I use measuring cups, food scales, read food labels and limit “junk food.” I also participate in one to two hours of physical activity—endurance training, weight training, and I practice yoga at minimum of five days per week. My parents have viewed these changes I have made during this time as both a patient on dialysis to being transplanted, and they have completely changed their lifestyle to include healthier habits as well. Both of them have improved laboratory markers, even lowering HgbA1c, thus lowering their risk of diabetes.
As a renal dietitian, I have the greater ability to reach even more people to become healthier and improve their overall quality of life. My patients express their gratitude when sharing my story and appreciate that I know exactly how difficult it is to follow the renal diet. They get surprised when I share my story because they usually don’t expect to be cared for by a clinician that has already been through dialysis and a transplant. I always knew I needed to come back to DaVita because they made me smile and feel so cared for at a time where I felt so distraught. I knew I needed to help patients on dialysis, calm their nerves, anxiety and tell them it will be okay. I love that I can encourage patients to feel empowered and confident when managing their own health. I help patients develop their own nutrition plan by providing them the knowledge of the diet. I explain the education so they can understand why it is so important to take care of their nutritional intake.
My biggest reward during this time in my life is hearing the stories about the patients’ efforts and successes. The transition from being healthy, to being diagnosed with end stage renal disease to receiving a transplant sometimes felt like a struggle to survive. But ultimately, I changed my habits and life for the better. Now I am at a capacity where I can help myself, my loved ones and my patients change our lives and transform our own health outcomes for the better.