Back To Backpacking: Mark Watson’s CKD Journey

At Sierra Nevada Specialty Care, we love our patients. We live to serve each one with compassionate, expert care. One such patients is Mark Watson, who recently shared his personal journey with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and his positive experience as a patient in our nephrology practice.

The surprise diagnosis

The year was 2015. Being a steward of his own health, Mark visited his primary care physician to get routine bloodwork, despite having no symptoms other than tiredness. The lab work revealed kidney dysfunction, which was a shock to an otherwise healthy, active 60-year-old man. His doctor referred him to Sierra Nevada Specialty Care to diagnose the issue.

After further testing, our nephrologist Dr. Roberty Quigley found that Mark had a dangerously high potassium level (hyperkalemia) along with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or scarring of the kidney likely caused by untreated high blood pressure. Mark was diagnosed with stage 4 renal disease. And so our work together began.

RELATED STORY: High Blood Pressure: The Whole-Body Disease

Tackling CKD head on

Our marching orders were clear: optimize Mark’s quality of life, and manage his CKD until his eventual kidney transplant. With stage 4 renal disease, kidney function will continue to deteriorate, and transplantation is the only “cure.” Dr. Quigley regularly monitored Mark’s bloodwork, including glomerular filtration rate, and prescribed him high blood pressure medicine and a kidney-friendly nutrition plan. This approach delayed the need for dialysis for more than three years.

In 2018, Mark had a central venous catheter implanted in his chest to enable dialysis, followed by a fistula surgically inserted into his left arm. He was also added to the National Kidney Registry to await a new kidney.

Thanks to more affordable, user-friendly technologies, Mark decided in January 2021 to transition to home dialysis. “Understanding that dialysis is a long-term proposition, I wanted a more convenient at-home option to manage my kidney disease,” Mark explains.

Mark and his daughter Lisa signed up for training to learn to administer treatment at home. Then, just after their first home session, Mark got the call.

RELATED: Preventing Chronic Kidney Disease

New kidney, new lease on life

It was the call of a lifetime, quite literally. At 10am on a Friday, the University of California, Davis called Mark to inform him they had a match. A new kidney! They asked him to arrive in Davis — a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Reno — in just three hours, with his kidney transplant surgery scheduled for the next day. In the blink of an eye, Mark packed his bag and headed over the hill.

Surgery, recovery, kudos

February 12 is a day Mark will forever celebrate — the day he gained a new kidney and a new lease on life. He spent four days in the hospital. “There were lots of things to monitor: fluids in and fluids out, medicines, pain management, etc. It’s a lot of work to recover,” Mark said. But work he did, despite initial exhaustion. “I took little walks in the beginning, but I worked up to walking a couple miles by the end of the first month.”

There were no complications, and the twice-weekly blood and urine lab tests in the months following the transplant surgery all confirmed the surgery was successful. “The transplant team necessarily takes the lead role in patient care for the first six months post-surgery,” said Dr. James Sullivan, part of Mark’s care team. “But we worked closely with UC Davis to support Mark’s recovery here at home.”

Mark added, “I feel so lucky that I had the opportunity to get a new kidney. And I’m really happy with everyone at Sierra Nevada Nephrology. I always enjoy going there, there are no long waits, and I am always confident in the treatment I receive.”

A COVID-19 wrinkle

Three months after the successful kidney transplant, Mark was finally able to get his COVID-19 vaccines. Though he did contract the virus, his symptoms were mild. At UC Davis, Mark received Regeneron, monoclonal antibodies designed to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19, and is now participating in a clinical study to monitor COVID-19 vaccines for kidney transplant patients.

Moving forward

A mere six months post-transplant, this life-long backpacker and runner dusted off his gear and headed to Oregon for a short backpacking trip. “I haven’t felt this good in six years,” Mark said. We say, “Way to go, Mark!”

If you’re interested in learning more about kidney health, dialysis or transplantation, schedule a consultation with Sierra Nevada Specialty Care at 775.322.4550. Our practice has more than a dozen physicians and 10 nurse practitioners serving patients throughout Reno, Sparks, Carson City, and rural Northern Nevada.