Oct 192003
Authors: Brittany Burke

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.




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