“It’s just a lifestyle change.”
Ms. Sharon Cauthen, Spartanburg Dialysis
In 2013, Sharon Cauthen received her catheter to begin peritoneal dialysis (PD). But her story doesn’t start there. 25 years prior, she was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (PKD), a genetic disorder that results in the growth of cysts in the kidney. These cysts can cause the kidneys to be abnormally sized and, overtime, reduce kidney function.
Following her diagnosis, Ms. Cauthen began meeting with Dr. Murdock, medical director at Spartanburg Dialysis, once a year to monitor her PKD. As time went on, those visits started to increase. In 2010, she saw Dr. Murdock twice. In 2011, she saw him three times, and by 2012, she was seeing him every month. At that point, Dr. Murdock told her it was time to start dialysis.
This wasn’t a shock to Ms. Cauthen. Her father had PKD and also needed dialysis, and she had a number of aunts, uncles and cousins who all experienced the same thing, too.
“When people heard I was starting dialysis, they kept saying ‘but you don’t look sick!’” said Ms. Cauthen. “I had to remind them I’m not sick, I’m just doing dialysis. And it’s not a death sentence. It’s just a lifestyle change.”
This positive attitude helped keep her focused throughout the next three years on dialysis. She paid close attention to her diet, and went out of her way to ensure her treatment area was sterile, which ensured she never developed peritonitis. She was also diligent about time management, always ensuring she had enough time to complete her treatment throughout the day.
Ms. Cauthen also had a very strong support system – at home, with her nephrologist and with the staff at Spartanburg Dialysis – which made the transition to dialysis easier.
“The staff at Spartanburg is wonderful,” said Ms. Cauthen. “They are kind, caring, concerned, efficient; they always put the patient first. I remember calling about the cap coming off my catheter once and they helped me calm down, told me what to do and made room for me to come in right away.”
Ms. Cauthen also had trouble maintaining her protein levels. She met with the nutritionist at the center regularly who kept her focused and encouraged. With this guidance, she reached her protein goal.
After a few years, Ms. Cauthen decided to add her name to the transplant list, explaining, “I just wanted my life back.” Though PD gave her flexibility that she couldn’t get if she were to treat in-center, the demands of a sterile treatment environment and regular treatments often took time away from her grandchildren and the hobbies she so deeply enjoyed.
In June 2016, she received her transplant. She was actually the first transplant patient to receive a live organ flown on a UPS plane.
Looking back, she credits much of her success with dialysis to her family, her nephrologist and, ultimately, her desire to do well. “I have three children and I know they’re all at risk to develop PKD. I wanted to be an example for them, to show them that I could do it and do it right, so if they have to deal with this in the future, they know it can be done.”
She offered some advice for patients who may be starting dialysis, or may be considering a kidney transplant:
“The main thing is to follow your doctor’s orders. They know what they’re talking about. Do what they say and don’t think you can cheat to get by with something, especially if you are on the transplant list. I worked very hard because I wanted this to work, I needed this to work, and I’m so thankful it did.”