Like so many things that receive a designated day or a month of honor, kidneys deserve our attention every day. I’ve had a healthy respect for them ever since my son’s kidneys began to fail soon after he graduated from college and he had to start dialysis. Dialysis is a remarkable process, removing the toxins from the blood, managing a delicate balance of fluids and nutrients, keeping blood pressure in check, and so much more.
Dialysis can be a life saver, and I certainly wish there were an equivalent for people whose liver is failing. But even with all the bells ‘n’ whistles (bells really do go off in a dialysis clinic when something goes wrong), dialysis can achieve only about 20% of kidney function. Meaning, not only is it not a cure for chronic kidney disease, it’s not even a great long-term treatment for most patients. It simply buys time until a new kidney—whether from a deceased donor or, if you’re fortunate, a living one—is available. (For people who have other serious health conditions, a transplant may not be possible.)
Although plenty of people fortunately do well on dialysis for many years, the average outcomes with a transplant are far better. The 5-year survival rate for someone undergoing dialysis is about 35% versus well over 90% for a kidney transplant.
On this World Kidney Day (March 11), remember that kidneys are pretty special (even if, admittedly, they’re not as cute as the little purple guy with me in the photo) and shouldn’t be taken for granted. If you don’t know your kidney function, ask your healthcare provider. If you haven’t had the lab work lately, make an appointment for a check-up. The adage about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure couldn’t be more apt when talking about kidney disease.