Roberts was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD) at the age of 21. She effectively managed its progression for more than four decades, staving off dialysis treatment through a combination of diet and exercise.
Her condition, however, began deteriorating in 2009 and a year later, she began dialysis treatment and became eligible for a kidney transplant.
On average, most people in Roberts’ condition remain on a kidney transplant list for four to five years before getting the all-important, life-changing call.
"I consider myself incredibly lucky," she comments. "I was only on the list for about a year. Some people never get a kidney. It’s God’s will they found one that matched me."
The local woman notes that although there may be a perfect match between donor and recipient, a transplant might not occur due to the poor health of either one of the individuals.
"It’s so important to be in good health," she emphasizes. "Do everything you can to improve your health. It truly makes a difference."
Roberts stresses that if more people take this mission to heart then the government won’t need to spend so much money on CKD and dialysis in the future.
She says, "Thirty percent of the Medicare budget is spent on treating people with chronic kidney disease. That’s almost a third of the total budget going towards just this one disease. And it’s only going to get worse if we don’t address this situation now." She adds, "People don’t realize that one in six individuals in our country has CKD and soon that number will go to one in four. These are shocking statistics."
Roberts is currently at home, recovering from her transplant surgery after spending seven days in the hospital. She and her husband Calvin Sturdivant have only positive things to say about the care Roberts received from the UW Medical Center.
"It’s the best place in the world to be for a kidney transplant," comments Sturdivant. "They have the best doctors, the best equipment and the best care. We were so impressed with everything, and we continue to be impressed with the follow-up treatment as well."
Roberts attributes her relatively smooth recovery to an understanding of the importance of goals.
During her stay in the hospital, she would ask what she needed to accomplish each day and then set her objectives accordingly. It helped give her steps to aim for on her road to recovery.
She also relied on ensuring that she followed a system of principles she calls "The Three Cs."
"The first is communication," explains Roberts. "You have to communicate with your healthcare team. This is so important, not only in the recovery process, but all along the way. The next C stands for compliance. Follow the advice of your healthcare team and do what they tell you to do. And the last C involves critiquing what’s going on with and around you. Evaluate and assess, and if you’re not comfortable with something, speak up. Ask questions, get clarification."
With kidney transplants, the first six weeks are the most crucial period in regards to rejection, although there’s always the possibility of rejection at any time in the recipient’s life. Roberts notes that the leading cause of rejection is due to the failure of recipients to take their medications.
"I will have to take medications for the rest of my life," she says. "Currently, I am taking 24 different pills, some of which are taken multiple times a day. And they are very expensive, costing upwards of $9,000 a month. People lose their kidneys because they can’t afford the medications once their coverage decreases or ends. Instead of taking their pills every day, they start taking them every other day in order to stretch them out over more time. You just can’t do this because it will jeopardize the kidney."
To help Roberts ensure she takes her medications according to the set regimen, her husband developed an application called the "med tracker."
She writes down each time she takes the prescribed pill and any symptoms she feels in response to the medication.
"It’s a great way to train me about my medications, monitor my condition and then capture this information for my doctor," she remarks.
Sturdivant adds, "We’ve been told that the system is a healthcare worker’s dream. I’m planning to patent it because I believe it can be very useful with not only transplant recipients, but with other people who need to take a series of medications on a daily basis for various conditions."
Roberts feels she has a new lease on life now. She says, "I’m jazzed and ready to go. And I’m eager to share my experience and life’s lessons with others."
The Woodinville woman plans to write a book detailing her experience with advice on what others in the same situation can do to have a positive outcome. She also wants to go on speaking tours to promote awareness and provide insight into chronic kidney disease, as well as to emphasize the need for more living donors. The nonprofit organization, Options Unlimited International (OUI) Works, which was established last year by Roberts and Sturdivant, is dedicated to this purpose. It also focuses on providing services to help families in need defray the spiraling cost of healthcare.
"It’s a channel to communicate, to provide information and guidance regarding resources," explains Sturdivant. "We don’t offer medical advice. That’s for doctors to do. However, we are committed to delivering programs, services and information to high-risk groups, as well as to the general public because CKD and organ donation affect everyone, both directly and indirectly." He adds, "Glenda’s experiences with CKD, dialysis and now a transplant give her a unique perspective. We need to take the learning she has acquired and nurture it. We want to work with healthcare organizations, as well as directly with those who have the disease. Start with two people, for example, and be their sponsors, their advocates. Give them hope in their journeys."
Roberts stresses the need for individuals like herself to have a good support system because the disease takes its toll, not only physically, but also emotionally.
She says, "It’s hard on the whole family." The local woman considers herself fortunate to have so many people in her court. Family, friends and neighbors have all stepped up to help out during difficult times. "I’m so appreciative of all the support I have received and continue to receive. And I want to especially acknowledge Calvin for putting me in perspective as to how I can use my experiences to help others. He has helped me realize my life’s purpose."
For more information about chronic kidney disease and Options Unlimited International (OUI) Works: www.ouiworks.org.