Celebrating the gift of life during National Kidney Month

By Steve Winter and Cynthia Flash

Special to the Renton Reporter

Severe kidney problems brought on by lupus have done nothing to slow down Renton teacher Cathy Guy. In fact, her kidney problems, which led to dialysis treatments and two transplants – catapulted her to win golfing gold at the 2022 Transplant Games of America.

For Guy, who teaches technology at St. Anthony School in Renton, the competition was secondary, and winning was a fun highlight. The best and most amazing part for her was being part of a celebration with a community of individuals who have all been touched by organ, eye or tissue donations.

March is National Kidney Month, a time to focus on kidney disease and its causes. Guy hopes that her triumphant story helps educate others that they have options for living well with kidney disease, which affects one in nine American adults.

Guy grew up in the Black Hills area of South Dakota. She graduated from Montana State University with a degree in education and student taught in Ireland. When she returned to the United States, Guy became very sick during her first year of teaching. Doctors quickly diagnosed her with systemic lupus and explained it had begun to cause severe kidney problems.

When Guy moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1989, she started a new teaching job and did her best to manage her health. In 1995 her kidneys had failed to the point where it became necessary for her to receive dialysis treatments to clean the waste and water from her blood, replacing the function of her failing kidneys. She ultimately learned to give herself peritoneal dialysis at home, with help from local nonprofit dialysis provider Northwest Kidney Centers.

Guy’s world improved significantly in 1998, when she received a kidney from her older brother, Dave Guy. His donation was profound for Guy, not only because she felt so much better physically. She said Dave “saved her life” with his gift and made it possible for her and husband, Tim, to add to their family. A few years after she received her kidney, the couple became parents to a baby boy, James.

A strong advocate for organ donation, Guy said that one of the benefits that doesn’t get talked about enough is just how much better a person can feel after a transplant. “Don’t be afraid to go for a transplant,” she said to others who are interested. “Don’t be afraid to tell people that you need a kidney to have a better life.”

Over time, Guy’s first transplanted kidney lost some capacity, requiring her to go back on home dialysis in 2014. She remembered the sadness and hopelessness she felt at that point. “I felt like I’d lost my one shot,” said Guy, who has supported and volunteered for Northwest Kidney Centers ever since she first started dialysis, driving patients to dialysis appointments, training individuals on computers, helping with fundraising, and staffing the organization’s information booth at festivals and health fairs.

In 2015 Guy’s situation changed again when her dear friend, Shannon Larsen, of 30 years gave her a kidney that is still working today. She is also happy to share that the therapies of today are much better and don’t cause harm the way past treatments once did.

Enter the bi-annual Transplant Games, established to honor the lasting legacy of donors who gave the ultimate gift of life, celebrate the success of transplantation, and increase the national and state donor registry numbers. Recipients, living donors, donor families, individuals awaiting transplantation, caregivers, medical professionals, as well as workers from recovery agencies, transplant centers and other related organizations all come together to celebrate the gift of life and to highlight the need for and importance of organ donation.

“It’s truly a great event that more people should attend,” Guy said. “It’s so encouraging and supporting. I love hearing all the stories!”

The most recent games – held last summer – featured more than 40 teams of transplant recipients and living donors competing in 20 athletic events like swimming, biking, track and field and badminton. There are also less-active events like poetry, singing, poker and trivia. In addition, more than 60 special events are held throughout the Games to give attendees the opportunity to engage with one another and share stories.

A call from an old college friend (and fellow kidney recipient) motivated Guy to compete in the 2010 games, which were held in Madison, Wisc. Though her athletic experience had been in track in college, she opted to compete in golf, a game her father taught her as a young adult. She surprised herself and won a gold medal. Since then, she has encouraged others to attend the Transplant Games. The inherent support she felt made for a powerful experience.

When 2022 rolled around, Guy and Larsen, her kidney donor, headed to San Diego for the next Transplant Games. Both came home with new medals. Larsen won two silver medals in swimming, and Guy won gold medals in individual and team golf.

Since March is National Kidney Month, it is a great time for everyone to take steps to improve their kidney health. Tips include:

*Following prescribed treatments to control diabetes and/or high blood pressure.

*Eating a kidney-friendly diet (low or no salt). Look here for a kidney-friendly diet and recipes or attend an Eating Well, Living Well class to learn how to eat a kidney- healthy diet. See classes at https://www.nwkidney.org/living-with-kidney- disease/classes/.

*Staying active through exercise that is enjoyable.

*Avoiding overuse of over-the-counter pain medicines or prescription medicines.

Learn more about kidney disease at Nwkidney.org.