By Cynthia Flash
For The Reporter
Good friends, strong faith in God and the feistiness of one who grew up with more than a dozen siblings — those assets have seen Renton resident Anna Lee through many health challenges.
Diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1997, chronic kidney failure in 2010 and early stage breast cancer in 2014, Lee doesn’t let her health conditions define her. Instead, she makes the best of the life she’s happy to be living.
“I try to live each day the best way I can,” she said. “If you love your life and you want to do the best you can, go on with your plans. I concentrate on living, enjoying my life, trying to work with what I have and not spend time dwelling over my conditions.”
March is National Kidney Month, a time to learn the risk factors that cause chronic kidney disease, which more than 10 percent of American adults experience at varying levels of severity. Undetected and untreated, it can progress to chronic kidney failure, a life-threatening condition.
Lee, now 68, worked as a certified nursing assistant until 2010, when kidney failure came as a sudden, unwelcome surprise. Driving home from a work assignment in Kent, she suddenly had trouble breathing.
“I started hearing the wheezing sound, the death wheeze, a scary thing,” she recalled. “I prayed that God would get me home safe to Renton.”
Once there, she made it out of her car and into her building, then collapsed at the bottom of the stairs.
“I prayed that God would send me someone to help me. I didn’t know anyone. My phone had died,” she said. “It was a miracle that a lady named Judith came in. She said, ‘Are you OK?’ I said, ‘No, I can’t breathe.’”
Lee ended up in the hospital, where she was told that her body had filled with fluid because her kidneys had failed.
Chronic kidney failure meant she was up against a tough choice: regular dialysis treatments or an organ transplant. There were no other options to rid her body of the waste her kidneys could no longer process — and to keep her alive.
Dialysis treatment became her new part-time job. Three times a week, for three and a half hours at a time, she went to Northwest Kidney Centers’ Renton dialysis clinic. She gets connected to a machine that cleans her blood of waste and extra fluid.
Having watched her mother and her brother go through dialysis (kidney disease often runs in families), Lee at first resisted. But then she realized she had no other choice if she wanted to live.
“This is the life I have now. The journey is up to me. I can make it be a sad situation or can make the best of it that I can,” she said.
A personable woman, Lee sings in the choir at Sanctuary of Praise church in Bellevue, enjoys spending time with her three grown children, likes to walk outside and be around people. She has made good friends with the dialysis center staff.
“I’m grateful I have a good support system with my church family and the senior center and the dialysis center,” she said. “The techs who give the treatments are very nice, very helpful. And I appreciate very much the kindness of the social worker who is there. They help you to not feel it’s a drudgery. They’re there for you.”
Lee hopes to qualify soon for a kidney transplant and works hard to maintain a positive attitude.
“The thing that I do that kind of helps is I have a lot of church activities, I listen to my gospel music. If I get down, I’ll whip up a Bible study or call a friend. I try to keep myself active, not get into a deep depression,” she said.
“People call me feisty. I’m a fighter. I’m the oldest of 15 kids. In our family, if you didn’t like something, you’d fight about it, never whining or carrying on.”
Kidney disease, in many cases, is preventable. Treatment and lifestyle changes before the disease progresses can delay or prevent chronic kidney failure. Here are tips to keep kidneys healthy:
1. Have your kidneys checked regularly.
2. Work with your doctor to monitor your blood pressure.
3. If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar to keep it within normal range.
4. Avoid or limit over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and Aleve.
5. Eat less salt – no more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium per day. That means paying attention to salt hidden in processed food.
6. Exercise. Using your muscles can keep your kidneys healthy.
7. Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit.
If you have questions, check out Northwest Kidney Centers website, www.nwkidney.org.