Kidney patients advocate for testing, donations

Ruby McGartland prepares for her daily dialysis treatment at her home in Lakeshore Hills. With help from her friend Patty Purcell, background, McGartland is able to use a home dialysis machine. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: Mar. 15, 2013 10:16 am Updated: Mar. 29, 2013 1:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Tim Baumgartner hopes someone will give him the gift of life without dialysis.

Even more so, Baumgartner hopes that person will live to see him thrive with the donated kidney.

March is Kidney Disease Awareness Month, but for kidney patients like Baumgartner, Ruby McGartland and Lana Schmidt, this isn't a once-a-year message. They've seen patients drastically improve with kidney transplants and witnessed the benefits of identifying kidney disease in its early stages. But they believe few people think to ask their doctor for the appropriate tests or consider being a living or at-death kidney donor.

"Your kidney is no good 6 feet down," Baumgartner said.

A live, perfectly matched kidney donation is Baumgartner's best chance for surviving the disease he's battled since age 23. After eight years of dialysis and two failed kidney donations, he is passionate about raising awareness of the disease, the importance of kidney donations and his search for his perfect match.

"There's times I've felt so bad I welcomed death, but I didn't want to miss out," Baumgartner said. "I want to see my son graduate. I want to see one more of his football games … I want to keep other people from going through this."

Dr. Rishi Ghanekar, a nephrology specialist at Quincy Medical Group, said that on rare occasions, kidney patients will get a donated kidney from a live stranger. However family members usually will offer the spare organ. Ghanekar said that the donation requires a time commitment from the donor but the gift poses minimal health risks.

Baumgartner got a live donation from his brother-in-law in 2004, and his body excelled for a year with the new kidney until it eventually rejected the partial match. In 2009, he received a kidney from a damaged cadaver, and it caused more harm than good and the kidney was removed. Since then, he's been waiting for a viable match.

There are 4.4 million noninstitutionalized kidney patients in the U.S, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These patients funnel into dialysis centers for dialysis treatment or hook up to home machines multiple times a week. Doctors can use a glomerular filtration (GRF) test to identify a problem before extreme damage occurs, but the disease often goes undetected until the kidneys are significantly impaired.

Ghanekar recommends that people with diabetes, high blood pressure or a family member with kidney disease receive a GRF test every six months and a protein test every year. He recommends that people without the risk factors ask their primary care physician for a GRF every year.

McGartland has managed diabetes for 26 years, but three years ago, she became a kidney disease patient, too. Her condition presented itself at stage three kidney failure.

"I knew that diabetes could cause kidney disease," McGartland said. "But you never think you're going to get it."

Schmidt was kidney illiterate until her disease was diagnosed 10 years ago, but now she feels like she's learned a second language. Each night, Schmidt plugs into her portable home hemodialysis machine and removes waste and excess water from her blood. The machine completes the blood-cleaning function her kidneys can't handle. This nightly process keeps Schmidt alive, and she uses that life to help others despite the fatigue involved with dialysis.

"Usually after dialysis, you tend to have fatigue because you have to move fluids," Ghanekar said. "It's like almost running a marathon every day."

When the disease prevented her from working, Schmidt sought a new purpose. For the past two years, she's advocated for awareness, increased medical testing for at-risk patients and kidney donations. She works closely with national organizations such as the American Kidney Fund and the American Association of Kidney Patients, and she has spoken to congressmen and senators in Washington, D.C., about the importance of kidney-related legislation.

"I'm kind of like a cheerleader for kidney disease," Schmidt said.

Schmidt and McGartland also gather area kidney patients for a monthly support group.

"You just have to make up your mind that you're going to handle it," Schmidt said. "It's an everyday fight for kidney patients."




º The Kidney Patient Support Group of Quincy and Hannibal meets monthly at noon either the third or fourth Saturday of the month. Meetings typically last one or two hours, depending on the topic. The meetings rotate to different sites in the area. The group posts meeting notifications in all area medical facilities, as well as by newspaper, television and radio. For more information, contact Lana Schmidt at (217) 617-2888 or

º Blessing Health System and Quincy Medical Group will host a free kidney and diabetes screening from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 2 at the Kroc Center, 405 Vermont. Anyone interested should register by April 29 by visiting or calling (877) 411-2468. Services offered are blood pressure readings; measures of blood sugar, body mass index and waist size; urinalysis; and blood draws. Participants will also be able to have a private consultation with a medical professional. No fasting is required.