When Heather Luchies was taken to the hospital with a terrible and persistent headache, she never expected that she’d leave a week later with a life altering diagnosis of kidney disease. However, after undergoing multiple tests and finding out that her blood pressure was off the charts, that’s exactly what happened.
As a seemingly healthy 19 year old that was hardly ever sick as a child, Heather was shocked about the diagnosis and the ways in which her life would change because of it.
“It was a huge surprise,” says Heather, “I just didn’t suspect anything at all.”
Since Heather’s hospital visit at the age of 19, she’s never been off blood pressure medication and has had to make many other adaptations in her life to manage her kidney disease and prevent kidney failure. Though the kidney disease diagnosis was unexpected due to Heather’s young age and historically good health, it was not surprising that Heather’s high blood pressure seemed to be a contributing factor. High blood pressure affects 1 in 3 adults from all ages and backgrounds, and is the second leading cause of kidney failure. Many people don’t realize that they have high blood pressure, and it often leads to health complications including heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease.
Though it was originally unclear how Heather developed kidney disease aside from the added stress of her once elevated blood pressure, doctors suspected that Heather may have Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, also known as FSGS. This suspicion was confirmed five years later when Heather underwent a biopsy.
Heather says that even with her diagnosis, she’s been “pretty lucky overall.” While being closely monitored, Heather gave birth to a son—now 13 years old—with only a few complications.
“My blood pressure was really hard to control throughout the pregnancy and I was induced 6 weeks early.”
Much of Heather’s apparent luck was related to her positive attitude and proactive approach to managing her kidney disease. Heather has maintained a very healthy lifestyle, and regularly takes her medications, which may be a reason that she is a long-time kidney disease patient who has avoided the onset of kidney failure as well as the need for a transplant or dialysis.
“I’ve always eaten pretty healthy. I’ve done more of a kidney-friendly type of diet by trying to eat lower protein, lower potassium, and lower sodium. Also, I don’t eat a lot of dairy.”
In addition to eating healthier, Heather has increased her physical activity level, which has helped her control her blood pressure and keep her kidneys healthy as well.
“I exercise, taking care of myself the best that I can,” says Heather. “I walk and sometimes run a little bit on the track by our house. I’m a pretty active person and I’m outside a lot!”
With kidney disease being such a huge part of her life, Heather decided to get more involved with her disease by connecting with the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan (NKFM). Last year was her first year participating in the NKFM’s Grand Rapids Kidney Walk, which takes place annually at Fifth Third Ballpark. “Team Heather,” which is made up of 50 or so of Heather’s family and friends, had a strong first year by raising $2,400.
“I have this disease that’s incurable, I want to do everything I can,” says Heather about her involvement with the Kidney Walk and spreading awareness about kidney disease in the Grand Rapids community. “I want to get involved and raise awareness.”
Heather emphasizes the necessity of educating people on the risks of kidney disease and helping others who have kidney disease.
“It’s important to get the awareness out there to help others and help myself by trying to find a cure for kidney disease, by walking or raising money or whatever I can do for those who might not be able to afford care,” Heather explains. “Awareness is important, too, for people who don’t know anything about kidney disease. Especially for people with diabetes who don’t eat healthy. The risk is so high.”
Heather plans on participating in this year’s Grand Rapids Kidney Walk as part of Team Heather. She has also been involved in other NKFM events as she continues to spread awareness about kidney disease in the Grand Rapids community. For information or to register for the Grand Rapids Kidney Walk or another Kidney Walk in Michigan, please visit www.kidneywalk.org.