Living with Kidney Disease: Jennifer’s Story
Jennifer Laferriere appears to be a healthy, happy person. She’s raised two daughters – now teenagers – has a little entourage of beloved pets and as of late has been trying her hand at extreme couponing.
Nothing about the 41-year-old indicates she has kidney disease or that she’s been needing dialysis for the past 15 years. Laferriere is the first to admit she hasn’t always grasped the seriousness of her condition. It was a routine urine test that led to a diagnosis of a rare kidney disease when she was only 15. Up until that point, she had not felt sick.
“Of course you don’t really take anything seriously at that age,” she says, remembering when the diagnosis came. Kidney specialists monitored Laferriere’s health, prescribing medications when necessary. She lived a fairly normal life despite the slow loss of kidney function. On a couple occasions she strayed from her care plan, landing in the hospital with low potassium levels or as a result of not taking medication. Despite the inevitable toll pregnancy would take on her health, Laferriere went on to have two children.
“It was worth the gamble because I probably would have ended up on dialysis anyways,” she says. The second pregnancy was not easy and led to a premature birth. Four months later the doctors had to hospitalize Laferriere, who was 26 at the time, and put her on hemodialysis to stabilize her health.
The dialysis performed the function Laferriere’s kidneys could no longer effectively do – cleaning blood and removing waste and excess water from the body.
In hindsight, Laferriere admits there was probably more she could have done. It was tough to grasp the idea she had kidney disease, when she didn’t feel sick. She says she went through a bit of denial.
For many people, when kidney disease is detected before too much damage has occurred, renal health care teams can help them manage the disease through diet, exercise and medications. When kidney disease is not caught early enough, the options are fewer.
Laferriere had not fully prepared herself for the expected outcome of dialysis. She felt overwhelmed. “It was really hard at first and I didn’t want to do it, but I’m glad I did.” When she stabilized she was able to switch to peritoneal dialysis (PD), is a gentler form of dialysis that involves less equipment and restrictions than hemodialysis. PD uses a solution that is put into the body’s peritoneal cavity and then removed at a later time, to remove waste and toxins from the body. PD can be done at home, allowing patients more freedom when it comes to travelling and scheduling treatments, and it can often help kidneys hold onto their remaining function for a longer period of time.
Laferriere said it took a while to adjust to life on dialysis but soon it became a part of her daily routine. “It was quick and easy to do. It wasn’t a big deal.”
Laferriere was on PD for 11 years before a few infections took their toll and scar tissue prevented her being able to have another catheter inserted. She had to switch to home hemodialysis, which involves a larger machine and several weeks of training. “I was a little careless,” she admits, noting in hindsight she would do more to help prevent infections.
Laferriere has been on the transplant waiting list for over two years. Because of her specific needs, finding a match is more difficult. Kidney recipients can receive kidneys from both living and deceased organ donors.
When it comes to words of advice for people who aren’t familiar with kidney disease, Laferriere urges them to learn more. “I wouldn’t want anyone to go through this,” she says. She’s made sure to monitor her children’s kidney health and has talked to friends and family about being aware.
Story by Amie Lesyk
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