Kidney Disease is Ninth Leading Cause of Death in New Jersey

By Lauren Wanko

It’s another day in the office for attorney Ken Seltzer. The 75-year-old refuses to let anything — including kidney disease — slow him down.

“It’s like dealing with any other disease you may have. You either deal with it, accept it and live with it, or go sit in the corner and cry. I’ve chosen to just get on with my life so it’s more of a mental thing than anything else,” he said.

The New Jersey Department of Health indicates nearly 1,500 Garden State residents died from kidney disease in 2014 alone. It is the ninth leading cause of death among New Jerseyans. Males have a higher death rate from kidney disease compared to females.

What is kidney disease?

“When kidneys don’t function normally, they’re supposed to have a kidney function of 100 percent,” said Dr. Sushil Mehandru, section chief of Nephrology at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. “Diabetes is the number one cause of end stage kidney disease in America.”

High blood pressure is another leading cause, says Mehandru. It’s what caused Seltzer’s kidneys to fail. The kidneys are bean-shaped organs about the size of a fist located in the lower back. Kidneys do a lot, like filter the blood, removing excess fluid and waste from the body. It produces a hormone that regulates red blood cell production and more.

“They’re extremely vital. You cannot live without a kidney function,” said Donna Appleman, registered nurse for Fresenius Meridian Dialysis.

Patients with kidney disease often don’t experience any symptoms, says the doctor. He insists a transplant is the best option for end stage kidney disease in eligible patients, as there is no cure. But patients manage the condition with dialysis, either at home or at an outpatient facility.

The doctor says when his patient’s kidney function reaches below 15 percent he recommends dialysis — a machine used to remove waste from the blood. Essentially this machine does what the kidneys normally do. Patients typically spend three days a week here, three to four hours at a time.

“I tell my patients this is their second chance at life,” Appleman said.

Blood is pulled from the patient, pumped into a dialyzer — think of it as an artificial kidney — where it’s surrounded by a solution that helps clean the blood of excess fluids and toxins, says Appleman. The blood is then returned to the patient. Seltzer uses a different type of in-home dialysis which doesn’t involve his blood. It runs for nine hours every night while he sleeps.

“There is a catheter that they surgically put in your abdomen which I have which is now part of me so I pay no attention to it and it’s that catheter that I use to hook up to the machine at night and that’s how it works,” he explained.

The Spring Lake Heights resident insists he feels light years better since he started the dialysis. Now he has more energy and isn’t as tired.

Seltzer says although he knows a kidney transplant is an option, he’s so comfortable with his in-home dialysis that he doesn’t mind committing to it for the rest of his life.