Doctors diagnosed Heather Howell with Polycystic Kidney Disease
(PKD) in March 2002 and for the last year and a half, tests and
urine samples dictated her life.
Howell, a stay at home mom in Diana, Texas, learned she
inherited the disease when pregnant with her first child.
“I only mentioned that my father and brother had PKD (to the
doctor),” said Howell, 23. “The doctor gave me a sonogram and it
showed I had cysts developing in my kidneys. Other than my family
history, I had no warning signs.”
PKD is characterized by the growth of numerous cysts in the
kidneys. The cysts are benign – non-cancerous – but contain fluid.
In the worst scenarios, these cysts may lead to kidney failure,
according to Deb Morris, the Health Director at Hartshorn Health
Doctors keep a tight watch on Howell’s vitals because women are
more susceptible to kidney failure during pregnancy.
“During both of my pregnancies the doctors have been monitoring
the protein levels in my urine,” Howell said. “I also take low dose
antibiotics to keep me from getting a kidney infection.”
Howell tries her best to live a relatively healthy life. Though
she drinks lots of water and avoids aspirin and ibuprofen, these
precautions can’t guarantee the cysts won’t keep producing.
Although dangers come with PKD and pregnancies, Howell thinks
building a family is worth the possible pain.
“I have gone against the advice of my doctor who told me not to
get pregnant anymore,” said Howell. “But my husband and I want
children. We feel the benefits far outweigh the risks.”
“Kidneys are not very big,” Morris said. “They are about the
size of your fist and I don’t think people always understand that
any injury to the kidney can be devastating and painful.”
PKD cysts can range in size of a pinhead to the size of a
grapefruit, according to the National PKD Foundation. Sometimes the
kidneys can grow to be the size of a football.
Morris says Hartshorn is capable of treating students with PKD
although she is not aware of this actually taking place.
“If a young kid has already been diagnosed with (PKD) the
chances are he’s already being treated,” Morris said. “We would be
here to offer supportive care.”
Morris, a nurse, also has family history of the disease. Doctors
diagnosed her first cousin in his mid-20s. Now, in his early-60s,
he tries to live life to the fullest.
“He just tries to stay healthy and hearty,” said Morris who also
teaches health and wellness to students on campus.
PKD, which affects 12.5 million people across the world, is
characterized as an internal disease. This is because one does not
show physical signs of the disorder, according to the National PKD
Foundation website, www.pkdcure.org.
PKD, which is only treatable by dialysis or transplant, affects
more people than cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia,
Huntington’s disease, Down’s syndrome and sickle cell anemia
combined, according to the Web site.