A Startling Diagnosis

Catching chronic kidney disease before it’s too late

Published in Spring 2016

Kaitlyn Asbury was like most college students—social, happy and without a care in the world. However, halfway through the fall semester of her sophomore year at University of Maryland, College Park, Asbury started feeling fatigued and experiencing dizzy spells. She could barely get out of bed to go to class and had no motivation to spend time with her friends.

At first, Asbury thought she had mononucleosis—a common illness among college students. When tests came back negative, she thought she might be depressed. “I knew something was going on with me, but I couldn’t figure out what it was,” she says.

Seeking Answers

During her winter break from school, Asbury scheduled an appointment with her primary care provider. Blood work determined that she had borderline anemia, a condition that develops when your blood lacks healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. Asbury’s doctor referred her to a hematologist (a doctor who specializes in diseases of the blood), who ran more tests. This time, the blood work produced unusual results, and after a second round of testing, Asbury was admitted to the hospital. Her creatinine levels—nearly five times the normal limit—indicated end-stage chronic kidney disease. Asbury and her parents were in complete shock.

“Most people don’t realize they have chronic kidney disease (CKD) until it’s too late,” says nephrologist Sumeska Thavarajah, M.D. “CKD usually gets worse slowly, so symptoms don’t appear until the kidneys are badly damaged.”

The kidneys are responsible for removing wastes, toxins and extra water from your body; balancing important salts and minerals in the blood; and releasing hormones to help control blood pressure, manage anemia and help maintain strong bones. “When your kidneys don’t work properly, waste products and fluids can build up in the body, causing swelling, vomiting, weakness and shortness of breath,” says Dr. Thavarajah.

Preparing for a Transplant

After Asbury was released from the hospital, she was referred to Dr. Thavarajah for follow-up care. More tests revealed that her kidneys were functioning at only 12 percent. She would either have to be on dialysis for the rest of her life or get a kidney transplant. Because Asbury was young and otherwise healthy, Dr. Thavarajah recommended a transplant.

Nearly a year after her diagnosis, Asbury received a new kidney as part of a four-way swap. “My grandmother was a perfect match, but the doctors wanted me to have a ‘younger’ kidney,” she says. Her grandmother’s kidney was donated to an older gentleman in Georgia, whose niece happened to be a match for Asbury. “We were very lucky that it all worked out,” she says.

Dr. Thavarajah notes that Asbury’s case is atypical of most people diagnosed with CKD. “We usually see patients who are older, and have a history of high blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of kidney disease.”

She goes on to say that no matter what stage kidney disease a person has been diagnosed with, incorporating a healthy lifestyle will help slow down progression of the disease.

Ready and Reenergized

Since her transplant in October 2013, Asbury has noticed a significant change in her health. “It’s nice not having to worry if I’ll have enough energy to sit through class or hang out with my friends,” she says. “I just feel refreshed.”

Asbury returned to school in January 2014 to pursue a degree in criminal justice and is scheduled to graduate this May. She is excited to begin her career as a background investigator for the federal government.

To schedule an appointment with a nephrologist, call 410-550-2820.