It’s National Kidney Month, a good time for screening

Knowing your risk and following treatment are key. When kidney damage requires dialysis, mortality rates are high.

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EVERETT — Mickey Kelly wants people with diabetes to get annual kidney screenings and to follow their doctors’ advice. At age 59, Kelly has needed dialysis for three years now, after having been born with Type I diabetes.

“When you’re a dialysis patient, life is not easy. When I first found out I was really upset,” Kelly said. “But as time went on, I realized that if I don’t do this, I’m going to die.”

She found out she needed dialysis accidentally, after an unrelated hospitalization when the staff detected problems with her kidney function. In hindsight, she recognized that she had been experiencing symptoms — like back pain near her kidneys and frequent urination.

Currently, Kelly receives treatment from Northwest Kidney Centers twice monthly, and manages her own peritoneal dialysis for eight hours per day at home. She usually does this while sleeping each night.

March is National Kidney Month, when doctors and patients raise awareness about the importance of screenings for those at higher risk of developing kidney disease, such as people with diabetes or high blood pressure.

Dr. Suzanne Watnick, chief medical officer of Northwest Kidney Centers and a self-described “kidney geek,” said one in nine adults in the United States has kidney disease, but they don’t all know it. It’s a silent disease.

Screening and working to prevent disease progression are important. When the kidney damage requires dialysis, mortality rates are high.

About 75% of dialysis patients have diabetes or high blood pressure, Watnick said. Taking care of both of those diseases, with a heart-healthy diet and medications, can really slow down progression.

A kidney transplant improves quality of life even more, Watnick said, but the waitlist is long. The average wait is three to five years, although that varies by state, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Kelly finds hope in her Christian faith, the possibility of a transplant, and her current medications and lifestyle changes. “If I can stress anything about kidney disease and dialysis, is that you have a role in it, and you’ve got to take this seriously,” she said.

For more information about local resources, visit

Joy Borkholder: 425-339-3430;; Twitter: @jlbinvestigates.

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