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Kevin, PKD patient and pre-emptive kidney recipient, USA

Taking care of a transplanted kidney through physical and mental health

Kevin's story: how exercise and meditation help him preserve his kidney since 2004

“And people say to me: I never would have guessed that you had a kidney transplant… when I hear those words, they keep me motivated, and keep me going.”

It’s been more than 18 years since Kevin’s kidney transplant in 2004. Hailing from the US, his doctor had told him about the benefits of exercise for people with polycystic kidney disease (PKD) at his diagnosis. Like Kevin, many people living with his condition require a kidney transplant, and so regular exercise is an important strategy to counterbalance the increased risk of heart disease following a transplant.

“One of the things I didn’t understand at that point however, and that I’ve realized post-transplant, is the mental health benefit.”

By the time Kevin received his transplant, he felt different, and unlike his previous self. He was confronted with the reality of difficult questions with unknowable answers, “how long is this kidney going to work?”, “how long am I going to live?”. These were not only scary but also paralyzing – with so much of his life resting on factors outside of his control, and led him to develop severe depression.

There was one factor that Kevin could control however: exercise.

“You know I’m not this amazing athlete or anything, but I'm consistent.”

Kevin remembered the advice he had received from his doctor at his diagnosis and started to put that back into practice. He started a simple routine: 30 minutes of exercise five or six days a week. Not only were these sessions good for his body, but also for his mind. It made him feel better and enabled him to take back control of his life bit by bit, it gave him back his ‘competitive edge’, as he describes it.

“It’s something you do have control over, it’s a constructive habit, it doesn’t really cost you anything, and it’s good for you. I look at it as preventative medicine.”

As he settled into his routine, Kevin increasingly found that he was looking forward to his exercise sessions, and really noticed how much better they would make him feel, particularly on the bad days.

“You know, people say: ‘I don’t have time for this’, but you need to build your day around it and make it a priority. You find time to do it.”

The life-changing impact of his new routine led Kevin to become involved with the Global Renal Exercise Network (GREX, GREX fosters research & innovation across multiple disciplines to develop strategies to increase physical activity and improve health outcomes for people with Chronic Kidney Disease.

Kevin has learned to live and thrive following his transplant by being disciplined with his exercise, meditation and prioritizing his mental health, something he thinks it is important for people across the transplant community to know.

“It’s rare that doctors tell people with kidney disease and transplants that depression and mental health are a common issue. I think they should make that clear, but also say that something can be done about it. I figured it out for myself by trial and error. It’s really important that we help others in the transplant community understand the important role exercise, meditation and mindfulness can play in not only their physical, but also mental health after a kidney transplant.”