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Charity raises awareness on World Kidney Day

Johnny Bugeja

Today is World Kidney Day, and Kidney Care Gibraltar is raising awareness about the disease that effects three million people in the UK.

Kidney Care Gibraltar, Vice President Dominic Francis, was the first Gibraltarian to receive a kidney transplant under the new organ donation scheme with the NHS.

He told the Chronicle about his diagnosis and treatment, and also raised awareness about the symptoms and how in some cases kidney disease is preventable.

He described how in the UK it is estimated a further one million people are living with kidney disease but are not yet aware of it.

On average one in eight people will suffer kidney disease during the course of their lifetime and Mr Francis said chronic kidney disease is now the sixth fastest growing cause of death.

“There are five levels to kidney disease the first two being mild, stage one and two and then you have 3A and 3B and stage four,” Mr Francis said.

“When you get to stage 5 you have 15% or less of renal function.”

“Things start to get really serious and at stage 5 you have to have dialysis because your body is not able to fulfil the role to suitable standards.”

“What happens is that there is so much damage that the body is unable to cleanse itself and therefore toxins still circulate in the body, which are basically things which shouldn't be there.”

“I know for a fact it can manifest itself by having rashes, by having itchiness.”

“The experience I had was incessant. I couldn't sleep and what happened was that because as a result you would obviously be tired during the day and you would be in a mood as well.”

“You would be in a bad mood that's just one of the symptoms, and headaches, feeling lethargic, having aches and pains through the body because kidneys also strengthen and regenerate the bones.

“They also produce red blood cells and when they are no longer able to do this you really feel weak.”

Mr Francis initially fell ill with high blood pressure and found this difficult to accept as he was in his 30s at the time.

He sought a second opinion from a visiting Nephrologist, and after a biopsy the doctor found he had kidney disease.

“Initially I found [kidney disease] very difficult to upset because I was young at the time and I could not see why I would have it,” he said.

Mr Francis said in this case his antibodies worked against themselves so there was no way to prevent having kidney disease.

“I was destined to have it,” he said.

“But in most cases what happens is that kidney disease comes along as a result of something else.”

“For example, if you have high blood glucose and you are diabetic this will prompt it.”

“If you have high blood pressure this too can prompt it and, in my case, the high blood pressure was a manifestation that I had it, so it wasn't prompted by the heart blood pressure.”

“Why is it that if you have either, you could end up with chronic kidney disease? Well, it's because both the excess sugar or existing pressure within your body can damage the nephrons within your kidney.”

“In other words, the kidney is like a sponge.”

“It's the size of a fist and it's got lots of little holes with the filters.”

“Excessive sugar and high blood pressure damage it. It’s like a net, the net is broken and has bigger holes so fish get out and get away.”

“This is exactly the same in simple terms.”

Mr Francis added that preventing kidney disease is possible in some cases by having a healthy lifestyle and exercising.

He said healthy choices can be made daily by swapping sugary fizzy drinks for water.

“It is not uncommon for people not to realise they have kidney disease until stage 3 as they may attribute high blood pressure or diabetes as something that runs in the family,” he said.

“That’s why it is important to create awareness.”

Symptoms include dark coloured urine, dry itchy skin, trouble sleeping, needing to urinate more often, a poor appetite, swollen ankles and feet, and muscle cramps.

Mr Francis described how dialysis can be tiresome, as it can take up to five hours and appointments three times a week.

“It means you have to spend between 12 to 15 hours a week,” he said.

“One misconception is that dialysis is a cure. Dialysis is not a cure. It is just a waiting game for somebody to be compatible to you, whether it is a living donor or a deceased donor.”

“In my case it was a deceased [donor].”

Mr Francis thanked that his donor gave him a new lease of life.

He received the transplant almost two years ago and continues to try to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Mr Francis would also like to see more local nurses become specialised in nephrology and work within the Dialysis Unit.

Find out more about the charity online via the Kidney Care Gibraltar Facebook page.

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