I am a nephrologist who has been a strong advocate of living kidney transplantation–from both related and non-related donors—since 1984. I began my career at UCLA where I finished my medical training in internal medicine and nephrology. Back then, we treated patients in the “dark ages of transplant,” where desperate people suffered from our lack of immunologic sophistication and the drugs necessary for a successful kidney transplant.
Although I am now in the twilight of my career, I have had the great pleasure of promoting “preemptive transplantation”—e.g., before end stage renal failure (ESRF)—from wife to husband, friend to friend, and mother to daughter, with excellent results because of our newer drugs and better knowledge of the immune system. I am now an even stronger champion of transplantation and of raising awareness of the need for kidney donors and the safety of donating.
Over the years, I have also become alarmed at the increase in chronic kidney disease (CKD) rates, which are tracking the rise in obesity and diabetes. We now have children with Type-2 diabetes—which used to be called “adult onset diabetes” because it was tied to diet, not to genetics. Our lifestyle is literally killing us.
And the culprits are not just diet and exercise; increasingly, stress is a factor. Stress not only worsens conditions like hypertension and asthma, it can even trigger autoimmune diseases, cancer, and more.
When I was diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago, the experience of suddenly having to surrender control of my life to the medical establishment gave me an opportunity to realize how heroic my patients had been in battling their own life-threatening illnesses. That realization inspired me to write Surviving Kidney Disease: True Stories of Love, Courage, Hope, and Heroism, in honor of my courageous patients who were motivated to survive by the love and selflessness of family and friends who came forward to donate kidneys. My intention was to offer hope to all of the patients who are still on dialysis, dreaming of a successful transplant. Some of my patients have had four transplants and are thriving.
WHY patients might need a second, third, or even fourth transplant is the subject for another blog post.
My book also discusses the latest findings in psychoneuroimmunology, which attest to the role of stress in contributing to diseases such as diabetes, the leading cause of kidney failure, and autoimmune diseases, which can also lead to kidney disease. My cancer diagnosis promoted me to undertake my own “stress mapping” of my life—and showed me just how often I thought I could “power through” stressful circumstances without realizing I would later pay a health consequence. I am now much more mindful of limiting the stress in my life and practicing stress-reduction and –management techniques like yoga and mindful breathing.
My motivation is to educate people, share my own experience, and inspire others to take charge of their lives and health now—whether they have kidney disease, care for someone with kidney disease, or want to avoid kidney disease. My book offers hope and a way to survive dialysis and then to thrive. I hope it inspires people to consider kidney donation. My book also offers a choice to people on how to avoid diabetes, autoimmune disease, cancer and more, by specific preventive lifestyle choices. I am donating hundreds of books to our Latinx community in Santa Barbara, which is very at-risk for obesity-related diabetes and subsequent kidney failure.
Progressive kidney disease now kills more Americans than either breast or prostate cancer—and the rates are expected to rise if we don’t take charge of our diet, exercise, and stress. I believe we can do these things. I believe kidney disease patients are inspirational examples to the rest of us.
That’s why I do what I do.