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Kingston resident giving back to fellow kidney disease patients

Kidney disease survivor Penny Hughes of Kingston is pictured with her husband and children – Owen Hughes, Caitlyn Hughes and Ian Hughes – and the family dogs.
Kidney disease survivor Penny Hughes of Kingston is pictured with her husband and children – Owen Hughes, Caitlyn Hughes and Ian Hughes – and the family dogs. - Contributed

KINGSTON, N.S. – Penny Hughes remembers the day of her diagnosis as utterly surreal.

“At the time, my husband, two children and I were living on Vancouver Island. Our son was two and half years old and our daughter was about to turn one. I couldn’t believe what the doctor had just told me,” the Kingston resident recalls in a written statement.

“I had heard so little about kidney disease in my almost thirty years. In the year and a half leading up to this appointment with the specialist after my biopsy, I hadn’t felt any different -still didn’t.”

Hughes was diagnosed with a kidney disease, IgA nephropathy, at the age of 29.

With help from information she received from the Kidney Foundation of Canada, Hughes was eventually able to determine that some signs were presenting during her pregnancies. She had a kidney infection in her third trimester while carrying her first child, and tests revealed that she had blood and protein in her urine during her second pregnancy.

“I was tested for gestational diabetes, which came back negative. As the months went on, the protein increased at alarming rates,” said Hughes, now a 42-year-old mother of two teenagers.

The diagnosis came following a kidney biopsy that took place when her daughter was 11 months old.

“It’s a disease where the IgA antibody attaches itself to the inside of the kidney, causing inflammation,” said Hughes.

“This in turn causes the kidneys to filter less contaminants from the blood.”

All things considered, Hughes believes she’s one of the lucky ones. Early detection has meant the outcome is not as dire as it could have been – no dialysis and no transplants.

“Medication has done wonders,” she said.

Hughes is on medication that allows her to live with full kidney function, and she’s downgraded from four kidney tests a year to one.

The Kingston resident is serving as the honourary chairperson for an upcoming Kidney Walk in New Minas to help raise funds for the Kidney Foundation of Canada’s Atlantic branch.

“There are so many people that do have kidney disease that find out so much later and usually will end up on a dialysis machine and some of them are just not as capable of coming out and doing the walk,” said Hughes in a recent interview.  

“I just wanted to do something for them because I don’t have to deal with that, so this is just my way of giving back to people who are dealing with a more advanced kidney disease than I am.”

As it stands, many dialysis patients in the Annapolis Valley commute to Berwick or Halifax three times a week for treatment. Proceeds from the upcoming Kidney Walk will help the foundation continue to support patients in a number of ways, including offering some financial relief for travel expenses and sending children living with kidney disease to Kings County’s own Camp Brigadoon.  

Hughes hopes sharing her personal story will stress the importance of early detection and regular check-ins with medical professionals.

“Pushing to have that one extra test done can make a world of difference in the grand scheme of living a full life with your kidneys,” she said.

She’s committed to living a healthier lifestyle, making better food choices and getting active as she continues to manage her disease.

“It’s led me to making sure that I take better care of myself,” she said.

The Kidney Walk fund-raising event will take place at Lockhart Ryan Memorial Park Sept. 9 at 1:30 p.m. Registration will begin at 1 p.m. Pre-register for the walk online by visiting https://kidney.akaraisin.com/ui/16785/g/18031

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