A patient undergoes kidney dialysis at a clinic in Sacramento, California.
A patient undergoes kidney dialysis at a clinic in Sacramento, California, on Sept. 24, 2018. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / AP

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Sarah Leighton is a nonprofit professional and fiber artist living in Belfast.

Like many people, I’ve always taken my health for granted. Serious illnesses were always something in my mind that happened to “other people.” It wasn’t until two days after my 33rd birthday that I realized something was seriously wrong.

After a standard medical treatment, I noticed blood in my urine. My doctors tested for kidney stones, a urinary tract infection and even kidney cancer. But after all tests turned out normal, they believed it was probably just a side effect of the treatment.

But I wasn’t satisfied. After many sleepless nights and a lot of online research, I stumbled upon something called IgA Nephropathy — a rare, autoimmune kidney disease that affects approximately 1.29 people per 100,000 people in the United States. After sharing my findings with my doctor, they immediately referred me to a nephrologist who confirmed via many tests and a biopsy that I had IgA Nephropathy and had likely been living with it for years.

Nearly two years have passed since my first symptom, and while I still struggle to accept my new reality, I am thankful that we caught it when we did. The unfortunate reality is that kidney disease is a silent killer. Often going undetected until you are in kidney failure.

It’s important to recognize the signs of kidney disease. Some of the most common signs include fatigue, blood in urine, foamy urine and swollen ankles and feet. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or believe you may be at risk for kidney disease, please contact a medical professional.

And for those who are lucky enough to have two functioning kidneys, I encourage you to consider donating one of your kidneys. There are more than 100,000 people waiting on the kidney transplant list and 13 people die everyday waiting for one to become available. Most people only need one kidney and living-donor organ transplants are associated with fewer complications than deceased-donor transplants and, overall, a longer survival of the donor organ.

Since my diagnosis in 2021, I have been an advocate for IgA Nephropathy and rare kidney diseases (RKD). I volunteer with the IgA Nephropathy Foundation raising money for research and I’m an ambassador of the new RKD & Me campaign, jointly launched by the IgA Nephropathy Foundation, NephCure Kidney International and Travere Therapeutics highlighting the stories of people living with rare kidney diseases, raising awareness and delineating the rare from more the common forms of kidney disease.

Feb. 28 is Rare Disease Day and Wednesday begins the first day of National Kidney Month. While my kidneys are still functioning, I will likely need a kidney transplant someday as there is no cure for IgA Nephropathy. Please join me in sharing this information with your loved ones. Your nudge could encourage them to seek medical attention for a seemingly benign symptom or even become a living donor. You never know whose life you could end up changing.