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If you’re diagnosed with a serious illness, it can be easy to get down and wonder why this is happening to you and how will it affect your future goals and dreams. For 57-year-old Jim McGarry of Fruit Cove, Florida, a diagnosis of end-stage renal disease that has required him to go on dialysis three days a week while he awaits a donor kidney hasn’t gotten him down. If anything, it’s given him the motivation to push himself to set and achieve new life goals.
“Finding out I had kidney disease in 2012, after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 10 years earlier, was a wake-up call for me about how I was living my life,” says Jim. “I used to travel a lot, didn’t eat right, and didn’t get enough exercise, but that all changed once I realized I needed to deal with my health issues. Then I started to make some much-needed changes to regain my health and re-evaluate the priorities in my life.”
Jim’s primary care physician at Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus, Floyd Willis, M.D., kept a close eye on his diabetes over the years and noticed in 2012 that his glomerular filtration rate levels, a measure of kidney function, were dropping. He was referred to Peter Fitzpatrick, M.D. a Mayo Clinic nephrologist, who diagnosed Jim’s renal disease and told him he’d eventually need a kidney transplant. Jim held off going on dialysis until April 2014 and now comes to Mayo Clinic’s dialysis center for treatment three times a week for four-hour visits.
“Yes, it’s sometimes inconvenient being on dialysis treatments, and it certainly makes out-of-town travel a bit more difficult, but my mindset is that I’m lucky to have dialysis as an option for buying me the time I need to await a donor kidney, which could take several years to find,” says Jim. “I’ve adjusted my life so that it’s now just a routine part of my weekly schedule of activities.”
A former director of field sales for an automotive software company, Jim was forced to give up his job and go on disability because of his illness. But that doesn’t mean he’s sitting around waiting for his life to change ... he’s doing something about it and has set new life goals to pursue.
Jim now has the free time to pursue his master’s degree, something he never had time to do during his busy career. He’s also started a Facebook page called “Looking for a Life Saver” to actively seek a potential living donor who would be a match for him. Jim also is serving as a mentor to other patients with end-stage renal disease who are still in the pre-dialysis stage to let them know the options they have and what it’s like to be on dialysis. In addition, he is leading a petition drive to enact legislation that would help increase the insurance coverage for anti-rejection medicine that all transplant patients must be on for the remainder of their lives. And, as an active participant in the National Kidney Foundation’s Kidney Walk, he’s hoping to raise $15,000 this year through donations by his sponsors, which is double what he raised in 2014.
“I feel very fortunate compared to some other folks I’ve met in my situation and want to do what I can to help give back to honor all the wonderful people who have supported me,” Jim says. “I owe a lot to my many Mayo caregivers, especially my doctors, who have expertly guided me through this sometimes scary and life-changing process.”
What advice does Jim give to others facing dialysis and an eventual transplant?
“First, I’d say make sure you are very comfortable with your dialysis center and your nephrology team since you will be spending a lot of time with them in planning and implementing your care,” he says. “Second, you should re-evaluate your goals at this point in your life. You may have to reset some of those goals based on your current situation, but that’s OK. You want to make sure your life still has purpose, and you are doing things that are fulfilling and helping you stay positive. Most importantly, focus on staying healthy, which is really what matters most.”
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