Brave patient’s warning: Take your health seriously

Patient in bed
Craig Tonning, 51, is urging people to take their health seriously to avoid the devastating effects of diabetes and kidney failure.

Craig Tonning’s kidneys have failed and he receives five hours of dialysis three times a week at Westmead Hospital.

Diabetes was a major reason why his renal system went into meltdown.

He has lost his left leg and doctors have informed him that he may lose his right.

He recently started wearing an eye-patch and now struggles with double vision.

Mr Tonning, from Wentworthville, has taken responsibility for his condition and is painfully frank about the impact diabetes and kidney failure has had on his body.

To help commemorate Kidney Health Week, he has sent a powerful message to the community: “Take your health seriously or you could end up like me.”

“Through my diabetes, I contracted kidney disease about two years ago,” Mr Tonning said.

“I should have listened.  I was told that if I don’t watch my diabetes my kidneys would fail. My kidneys have now failed and my heart has a murmur. My doctor says I’m having mini strokes.

“If I had looked after myself better I wouldn’t be in this predicament.

“If you’ve been diagnosed, take it seriously. See your doctor and get tested for diabetes. There isn’t much I can do now but I will fight through the best I can.”

Worldwide, there are 2.5 million people on dialysis. In poorer countries, up to seven million people die each year because they can’t access dialysis treatment.

Professor David Harris, who is president of the International Society of Nephrology (ISN) and Western Sydney Local Health District’s (WSLHD) Head of Dialysis and Nephrology, said that people who are at risk should take the time to get a check.

“If you’re over 60, have cardiovascular disease, a family history of kidney disease, are obese, smoke, have had acute kidney injury in the past or have diabetes or high blood pressure you need to get checked because you are at risk of having kidney disease,” Professor Harris said.

“The tricky thing about kidney disease is you can lose 90 per cent of your kidney function and not know it. It’s a silent disease.

“If you’re at risk, go to your GP who will check your blood pressure and order a simple blood and urine test, and that’s all you need.

“If your test results show kidney disease, you’ll go on to have further investigations.”

David Harris
Professor David Harris is encouraging the community who are at risk of kidney disease to get tested.

Professor Harris said the most common causes of end-stage kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure. He leads the Western Sydney Renal Service dialysis program, the biggest of its kind in Australia with the highest number of dialysis patients in the country.

“There are 450 million people around the world with diabetes and western Sydney is a major hot spot,” Professor Harris said.

“This means a huge number of patients in our area are at risk of kidney disease.”

The best way patients can prevent kidney failure is to manage their blood pressure, stop smoking and avoid diabetes and obesity by having a healthy diet and exercising.

If a patient does acquire kidney disease, they are at risk of cardiovascular disease and developing end-stage kidney disease for which they need dialysis or a transplant to stay alive.

Professor David Harris said there may be changes to kidney disease management in the future.

“The next couple of decades should bring exciting advances to the way end-stage kidney disease is treated, as there is a lot of research going into growing kidneys from cells. For the time being we have to rely on dialysis and transplantation.”

In addition to Professor Harris’ presidency of ISN, WSLHD’s clinicians Professor Jeremy Chapman and Professor Philip O’Connell have previously been president of the international Transplantation Society (TTS), a unique achievement for any hospital anywhere in the world.

For more information about how to keep your kidneys healthy, visit the World Kidney Day website.