Bonita resident Gracie Castro is one of 26 million Americans living with kidney disease. What sets her apart is her commitment to living an active lifestyle, despite her illness.
Castro is one of 20 patients nationwide who was nominated in January by clinic staff and fellow patients to be a face for Fresenius Medical Care North America’s Champions in Motion program.
The program is a new healthy lifestyle initiative, aimed at helping people with kidney failure live a better life on dialysis by encouraging them to become more physically active, eat healthy and ultimately enjoy more flexible lifestyles.
Castro was working full time as the manager of an obstetrics clinic when she was diagnosed after going to the doctor for flu-like symptoms. Lab tests later revealed that her kidneys were failing.
Now Castro travels every two years for up to one month at a time to see her 10 grandchildren in Tennessee.
“Dialysis is just a little part of my life,” she said. “It’s my grandchildren who keep me moving.”
San Ysidro Fresenius medical care social worker Ellen Anderson helps support patients as they transition into the fifth stage of renal disease.
Some 382,000 Americans with end stage renal disease rely on some form of dialysis to keep them alive, according to the United States Renal Data System.
“It was confusing,” she said. “I didn’t know what dialysis was. I did a lot of research on my own to educate myself.”
At the time of diagnosis, Castro knew nothing about the disease. Each week she has three dialysis treatments at the Fresenius Center in Chula Vista for three and a half hours.
“We help the patients create a new normal,” Anderson said.
Dialysis removes toxins and additional fluids, which can cause additional pressure on a person’s heart, including cardiac arrest.
Anderson said that Castro sets an example of success with her quality of life score.
The score is a nationally tested program that uses a questionnaire to evaluate a person living with the disease.
The questions are based on her perception of how well she thinks she’s doing,” Anderson said. “Gracie’s score is higher than average in the physical component summary.”
Castro’s score was 55. The average range is 26 to 48 and is an indication of how well patients will do on dialysis.
“A positive attitude is very important and it’s one thing that I admire about Gracie,” she said.
Castro said there are side effects from the treatment, but overall it makes her feel better.
“I’ve had a positive attitude about this because I didn’t want it to bring me down,” she said. “My family has been very supportive, which was a lot of encouragement to me.”
Castro’s workout consists of 40 minutes to an hour of either aerobics or biking and walking for about three miles. She does this two to three times a week.
In addition, Castro’s renal diet is strict. For example, she can only have four eight-ounce cups of fluids per day, which includes ice cream and soup. In addition, she can have specific fruit and vegetables and must avoid beans, dairy and dry chocolate.
Cathy Dominguez is a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator who works for Fresenius North.
“As a dietician I discuss with patients their renal diet which, along with dialysis, is part of treating the disease,” she said.
Dominguez said that sticking to a renal diet, which limits fluids, sodium and commercially prepared foods, helps prevent shortness of breath and excessive fluid retention.
“My focus is on what I can eat instead of what I can’t eat,” Castro said.
While one in nine adults is living with kidney disease, millions more are at an increased risk for getting it and don’t even know it, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
Although there is no cure for chronic kidney failure, Dominguez said that regular exercise improves blood circulation, digestion, controls blood pressure and weight, and can help increase life expectancy by preventing heart disease and other health issues.