Kidney Disease & SCI

Aaron Baker
Spinal Cord Injury Lifestyle Specialist | Shield HealthCare
04/06/20  7:00 AM PST
Kidney disease

Bladder Infections Are Just The Beginning

In May 2012, I was feeling a bit off. It is not totally uncommon as I have a high level spinal cord injury and was training an average of 6 hours each day on a custom-built tricycle preparing for the London Paralympic Games. I chalked it up to fatigue and took a day off. However, while giving my body a rest, I could tell it was more than just tired muscles. I had this strong pain in my back, and I knew it must be bad if I could feel its intensity below my level of injury. My body spasms were more intense, painful and more frequent. I was voiding a couple times an hour, and not much was coming out. We decided to visit the ER that night, and it was determined that after using a sub-par catheter, I had a urinary tract infection that was polluting my kidneys. I experienced an adverse reaction to the iodine used during the CT scan that swelled my face and airway. Only days before I was scheduled to board a plane bound for the games, I had to send a selfie photo from my emergency room bed to my coaches that I would not be making the Olympics. There it was… Years of hard work and dedication all came crashing down from a bladder infection.

The reason I talk about this is because we are all too familiar with the common “bowel and bladder issues” that come along with a spinal cord injury. However, what we do not talk about are the long term complications of UTI’s… kidney disease. Currently, kidney disease is the fourth-leading cause of death in spinal cord injuries, after respiratory illness, heart disease, and injuries. The damage can also occur from uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as alcoholism, heart disease, and hepatitis C.

So, what is the kidney’s function you may ask? Its main job is to filter your blood. The kidneys remove waste, control the body’s fluid balance, and keep the right levels of electrolytes. All of the blood in your body passes through them several times a day. Think of it like a Brita Water Filter, but for blood.

The noticeable signs of a problem are:

  • Swelling in your arms, wrists, legs, ankles, around your eyes, face, or abdomen
  • Restless legs during sleep
  • Joint or bone pain
  • Pain in the mid-back where kidneys are located which is the most common

The most common signs and symptoms of chronic kidney disease include:

  • blood in urine
  • dark color urine
  • decreased urine output
  • edema – swollen feet, hands, and ankles
  • hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • anemia
  • decreased mental alertness
  • fatigue

Other than medication, here are 10 types of foods that can aid in kidney health:

  1. Red Bell Peppers – Try them raw with balsamic vinegar
  2. Cabbage
  3. Cauliflower – Roasted is my favorite
  4. Garlic, Onions, Olive Oil – My wife is Italian, so I get my fair share in every meal
  5. Apples
  6. Cranberries – If you are drinking juice, try to get a version with limited added sugar
  7. Blueberries, Raspberries, Strawberries
  8. Cherries – I drink a 4oz. glass of juice before bed as it also contains melatonin
  9. Egg Whites
  10. Fish – Salmon and Albacore Tuna are my favorites

Although my Paralympic hopes were affected by an infection, I am happy to have fully recovered, learned about my kidneys and the complications of UTI’s, and lived to share the story.

Stay hydrated!

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I have been paralyzed from the waist down since 2013. I’ve been steadily gaining weight since then, and I’m starting to get self-conscious about it, especially since people already stare at me in my wheelchair. What are some exercises, things I can do to help me lose this extra weight?
Hi James! I'm sorry to hear about your accident, but it sounds like you're motivated to be as strong as possible. Good man! I also had a lean body before my injury. In my experience, nutrition and physical activity are the most effective ways to manage my weight. I have learned that by eating...


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