The three-year wait for a new kidney may have been the longest of Luritja woman Leanne Maloney’s life.
Ms Maloney, who lives in Alice Springs, was just 17 when she was diagnosed with type two diabetes. By the age of 27, her kidneys were failing and she began dialysis to stay alive.
Last year she had a kidney transplant, which has given her a second chance at life.
Ms Maloney’s story has a happy ending, but she wants to warn others to take their health seriously in the hope of saving someone from the “torment of dialysis”, surgery and possible death.
“Look after yourself,” she says. “You are not here forever. Eat healthy and stay on top of things.”
Ms Maloney’s warning comes during Kidney Health Week, which runs until March 11.
The statistics are grim: Indigenous Australians are more than twice as likely to have indicators of chronic kidney disease and four times more likely to die from it than other Australians.
Many people don’t even know they have it until the situation becomes dire.
For Ms Maloney, 32, the first sign that something was wrong came when she was just a teenager and went to the doctor for boils under her arm.
Although there is a family history of diabetes — two grandparents were diabetic — she wasn’t aware she had the condition until it was picked up during the visit.
“It didn’t cross my mind at all that I could be diabetic,” she says. “I was always a larger girl in high school, but I was active and played netball.”
Although she was initially careful with her eating, Ms Maloney wishes she had taken the condition more seriously later in her teens.
“I partied my late teens and early 20s away and neglected my disease,” she says.
In her mid-20s she was diagnosed with early-stage kidney disease. At 27, she was staring down a diagnosis of stage 5 kidney failure — the highest.
“If I had to do it all over again,” she says. “I would have listened to the doctors, but you are in denial.”
Early action saves lives
Kidney Health Australia interim chief executive officer Dr Lisa Murphy says kidney disease can progress silently.
Those at risk include people with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems; those who are obese or smoke; those who have had a stroke or have a family history of kidney failure or injury; and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 60.
Dr Murphy says people shouldn’t wait until they are sick to have their kidneys checked.
“Late referral is a real issue in successful treatment of chronic kidney disease, with Indigenous Australians more likely to be referred late to a nephrologist,” she says.
“Ninety percent of kidney function can be lost without any symptoms, therefore early detection and referral is critical.
“If kidney deterioration is detected early it is often highly treatable and in some cases may even be reversed.”
Ms Maloney’s life is now back on track.
She is an executive administrative officer at the Renal Dialysis Unit in Alice Springs — the clinic that helped save her life.
“Now that I’ve got all of this knowledge, I drill it into my family’s head,” she says.
“I tell them ‘Go and talk to a doctor before you end up like me’.”
For more information about kidney health in Indigenous Australians, visit here.