I found out I had high blood pressure when I was in college. I knew it was serious, and I knew I needed to take medication to control it.
But the prescription medication was expensive, and I couldn’t really afford it, so I stopped taking it. I guess I was in denial . . . for more than 10 years. But my life was pretty normal and most of the time I felt OK.
Until 2008. I started a new job, but my energy level seemed to be decreasing. I just wasn’t able to move around the way I was used to. As time went on I became more and more fatigued, but never once thought anything of it.
Once, on my day off, I noticed dark red blood mixed into my urine. I started to panic and thought about all kinds of mishaps. My wife took me to the hospital, and I was admitted for observation. After three days, I got my diagnosis: end-stage renal disease, or ESRD. I didn’t even know what that was—I learned my kidneys were functioning at only 15 percent. I broke down in tears.
I was terrified, and I was ashamed—embarrassed to tell my family that my high blood pressure had caused so much damage to my kidneys. I got a second and third opinion, hoping the diagnosis was wrong, but it was not. I had ESRD and would soon need to begin dialysis. But I continued lying to my family about what was wrong with me, about what was causing my weight loss and appetite loss. I simply could not tell them the truth.
It took many months for me to get up the courage to tell my family I had ESRD and would need dialysis. Once I did, I learned that high blood pressure ran in my family, and everyone was very supportive and encouraging.
It’s been six years since I started dialysis, and I know now that high blood pressure is the second-leading cause of kidney disease, so my story is not unusual. I’ve made up my mind that chronic kidney disease will not beat me, and I joined the American Kidney Fund’s Advocacy Network to help raise awareness of this disease.
If you have high blood pressure, the best thing you can do for yourself is keep it under control. Take your medications, improve your diet and do whatever you can to stay healthy—because there is no cure for kidney failure, only treatment.
Harold Dereck Lee lives in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, and is a member of the American Kidney Fund’s Advocacy Network. Earlier this year, he shared his story at Kidney Action Day in Boston.