Author, speaker and former professional soccer player Simon Keith keeps two photos as a visual reminder of the stark contrast between living on dialysis and receiving a successful kidney transplant.
Side-by-side, the images reveal the drastic impact of kidney disease on a man who holds the distinction of being the first athlete in the world to play professional sports after receiving a heart transplant. After serving him well for decades, the donor heart began to fail. This time, his kidneys were failing as well.
“I lost about a third of my body weight to kidney disease,” says Keith.
Today in the United States, more than 90,000 people are waiting for a lifesaving kidney transplant, with a new name added to the list every 14 minutes. Most of these patients will be referred to dialysis as their kidneys cease to function on their own.
“Being on dialysis is the definition of sick,” says Keith. “It’s hard to eat properly. It’s hard to concentrate. Everything is more challenging.”
“Personally, I was in a constant mental fog,” he adds.
While Keith, alone, suffered the disease’s physical toll, its mental toll also extended to his family.
“When I received my first heart transplant at 21, I didn’t think there was anything more brutal than seeing my parents having to watch their child slowly wither away to the point of death,” explains Keith. “But leading up to my second transplant, I decided there is something more brutal, and that’s having your kids slowly watch their dad die of kidney failure.”
While dialysis can extend the life of a person with kidney failure, it’s far from equal to receiving a transplant. Kidney transplantation is widely accepted as the gold standard of care for people with kidney failure, as transplant recipients are not only healthier than those on dialysis but also live an average of ten years longer.
“For me, it’s consistently the same thing,” says Keith, who received his combined heart and kidney transplant in 2019. “You wake up from transplant euphoric. All your systems are working again.”
“Your hands and feet are no longer cold,” he adds. “You have energy. You’re thinking clearly.”
Today, Keith works to increase access to transplants as part of the team at Rejuvenate Kidney Transplant Solutions. Using its Nobel Prize-winning data-driven process, Rejuvenate helps identify kidney failure patients earlier and get them transplanted faster, resulting in significant cost savings for employers and a better quality of life for their employees.
Rejuvenate provides new solutions for benefits managers who have traditionally focused on negotiating a lower cost of dialysis per treatment without realizing they’ve done nothing to improve the quality of life of those suffering from kidney disease.
“There’s no comparison,” says Keith. “On dialysis, you’re in a suspended state, absent from life. Once you have a transplant, you get your life back.”