A health screening at the company where he worked in 1988 gave Ron Krokey the first hint that something was wrong. At the time, Ron competed in triathlons, ran 10K races, and lifted weights. “I was healthy as could be,” he said. But his blood pressure was a little high at this screening. He went for his annual physical exam. Based on test results, he was referred to a nephrologist.
Ron was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or FSGS. FSGS is when clusters of tiny blood vessels in the kidneys that filter waste from the blood are scarred and damaged. This form of chronic kidney disease (CKD) may progress quickly to kidney failure or move more slowly.
“I was blessed to have an 11-year bout with CKD,” Ron said. In 1999, his kidneys failed, and he began peritoneal dialysis. Ron managed dialysis well for several years, working, traveling, and going on business trips. He coached his sons’ sports teams and stayed active.
Everything changed again in 2009. Ron got a severe case of peritonitis. He went into septic shock, an extremely serious condition that happens when a body-wide infection causes a dangerous drop in blood pressure. He was in the hospital for seven weeks and lost 70 pounds. “I missed the whole fall,” Ron said. “[I felt like] I wasn’t going to make it. I got to [that] point, but I wanted to see my grandson grow up. I loved my wife and my sons too much.”
Ron’s doctor told him later that he’d never seen anyone survive such a bad septic shock. “That told me God doesn’t want me in heaven yet,” Ron said. “That being the case, I’ll do everything in my power to fight this.”
Ron’s wife, Andrea, was with him every day. She encouraged him to walk just a little in the hospital, slowly increasing the distance until they went home. Ron was weak and tired after his illness and long hospital stay. His dialysis treatment changed to hemodialysis and his abdominal catheter was taken out. This meant that he was able to begin swimming again, without danger of infection. Ron gradually started to increase his physical activity and then added crunches to his routine. Now he walks a mile with Andrea every day. He swims a mile before dialysis three days per week. On dialysis days he does 1,000 crunches; on the other days he does 1,400!
Reaching out to other dialysis patients is extremely important to Ron. He started writing letters to other patients at his clinic, just to encourage them. “The response was fantastic,” he said. “Someone else speaks their language.” Ron is a member of the Southeastern Kidney Council and advocates for the American Kidney Fund and the National Kidney Foundation. He is also very active in his church. “[This disease] is not something you’d want, but in all honesty, I wouldn’t change a single thing,” Ron said. “I know for a fact in my heart I’m right where I need to be.”
Ron says his mother, who died at age 57 of kidney disease, is his inspiration, and that his wife is the strongest woman he could possibly imagine. His family and his faith continue to motivate him.
“The whole point is to touch other patients and to live a life that’s full,” Ron said. He encourages other patients to try to increase their activity a little bit. “You are way, way stronger than you think you are,” he said. “My sons say their dad has proven you can overcome things you think you can’t.”
#TogetherWeCan is a continuing series of stories from kidney patients and care partners, sharing their experiences and insights.