Battling CKD, the ‘silent killer’

Seeking a living donor

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BROOKINGS — “Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is pretty much called the silent killer,” David Perchinsky, 49, explained. And now it’s stalking him — but he’s fighting back. “It does kill people; it tried to kill me. I had two strokes, a heart attack and five-bypass surgery — all the while living with kidney disease. My main job the last couple years is trying to find a living kidney donor. …  Share their pair.” He has no living family members; they could have been potential donors.

Perchinsky now lives in Lakeville, Minnesota. He has connections to Brookings via South Dakota State University: He did his undergraduate work there from 1994 to 1997, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology; he returned from 2001 to 2003 for a Master of Science degree in Sports Pedagogy. His additional credentials include a doctorate in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service, from Cardinal Stritch University (Milwaukee).

“I have a love affair with Brookings,” he explained. “I did seven years of education there. I was well connected with many, many people there. I have lots and lots of friends in Brookings.”

In his search for a living donor, Perchinsky’s taking his search to social media. He’s done a television interview and was on a panel presentation given by the National Kidney Foundation.

Young and fit

In telling the story of his battle with CKD, Pershinsky looks back to when it first came into his life: “In late October 2017, I was mowing my grass and all of a sudden I couldn’t push my lawn mower anymore. I became extremely winded. I sat down; I knew something was up.”

At 44 years old, he saw himself as “young and fit.” At the time, Perchinsky was living in Wisconsin. About a week after this episode, he was in Bloomington, Minnesota, where he’s from, helping his father move.

“I felt nauseous, pretty bad and extremely weak,” he recalls. “My father called 911. I’d had a small heart attack and two small strokes.” His CKD was diagnosed just after that and progressed to his need for dialysis and a transplant. Then about two years ago and into dialysis, he had an angiogram that led to a need for five-bypass surgery. Having completed cardiac rehab, Pershinsky is now  “working out religiously about four days a week.”

“It’s pretty limited, because of my chronic fatigue and my mobility issues,” he added. “And those will go, once I get a living kidney donor (and transplant).”

Continuing his narrative, Perchinsky explained the preference for receiving a kidney from a living donor: “The percentages for somebody who gets a living kidney donor vs. somebody who gets a deceased kidney donor is night and day with the success rate.

“Being 49 years old, I’ve read a lot of statistics. Somebody gets a living kidney donor, you get the surgery and the next day, you’re not going to be released from the hospital but you basically feel like you’re young again.

“The success rate is predominately around 15 to 20 years with a deceased donor; with a living donor, I can live a long, long, long healthy life. I want to live a long, long, long healthy life to be with my kids again.” He has twin 14 year olds, a boy and a girl, and a daughter who is 17 years old.

Hypertension got me

“The kidney and the heart have a very reciprocal relationship,” Perchinsky explained, as in layman’s terms he addressed the pathology of CKD. “They help each other tremendously. The two big causes of kidney disease are diabetes and hypertension. Hypertension is what got me. One of my big messages is that people need to be aware of their blood pressure.”

Perchinsky explained that for him, CKD has been debilitating and “really turned my life upside down; I haven’t had a regular job since 2017.”

He’s one of 5,000 people in Minnesota on dialysis. “It’s a treatment,” he explained. “As I told my nurse this morning, ‘I’m ready to be embalmed.’ It’s kind of a morbid way of looking at it. But for 3 ½ hours a day, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, they take every inch of blood out of my body and they clean it out through a filter.” To say it’s a tough procedure would be an understatement.

“Dialysis is 100 % debilitating,” Perchinsky explained. “My days of dialysis are basically shot. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sunday mornings, I’m in the gym for two hours. It’s about a 45- to 50-minute workout; but it takes me about two hours to do that workout because of the chronic fatigue. I don’t have the stamina; I could probably walk a block and I’d have to rest for about 20 minutes.”

“I didn’t do my annual doctor visits. I was extremely healthy. I was in the gym on a regular basis. I had three kids. I was a college baseball coach. My whole life was around wellness. But the undetected high blood pressure got me.”

Kidney disease progresses through five stages, with each stage becoming worse and more debilitating than its predecessor. With stage five comes total kidney failure and the need for dialysis and a kidney transplant.

“The more I think about it, I probably had kidney disease 20 years ago,” Perchinsky noted, in retrospect. “But it was just undetected. It’s a very, very simple blood test by your primary physician to detect your kidney function. I recommend that for anybody.”

He noted that after CKD is detected, there are steps that can be taken to slow its progression: two primary ones are diet and exercise.

“Getting back into the gym and working out again after five-bypass surgery was a life-giver. … I’m doing as much as I possibly can.”

“I don’t want to be one of the 17 people a day who pass away waiting for kidney transplant. I don’t want to be one of those people.”

People can go online and contact the Transplant Center at the University of Minnesota Medical  Center and “kidneysolutions.org” for additional information about all aspects of kidney disease, kidney donations, donors and recipients.

People who donate a kidney are typically hospitalized for three to four days. For a kidney recipient like himself, Perchinsky said the hospital stay might be a week to a week-and-a-half.   

Contact John Kubal at jkubal@brookingsregister.com.