When Nader Ahmadzadeh was teaching about kidney disease in biology lessons, he knew a little more about the subject than most teachers. As a sufferer, he would go home three times a week and connect himself to a dialysis machine for eight hours at a time. He had to keep up this routine for five years.
Nader, a 53-year-old maths teacher at Altrincham Grammar School for Boys in Cheshire, was diagnosed in 1976 with chronic kidney disease (CKD) after some swelling on his feet, which he put down to air travel, failed to subside. This silent disease often goes unnoticed in the early stages, but it is staggeringly prevalent. More than 3 million people in the UK have the disease, which can leave sufferers feeling tired, breathless and sick as the kidneys struggle to remove waste products and excess water from the blood.
World Kidney Day on March 13 aims to raise awareness about CKD, from its almost undetectable starting point through to the impact it has in the long term, including potentially fatal renal failure.
Nader knows all about the progressive nature of the disease. For 14 years, he managed to control his condition through diet - largely by eradicating salt and increasing protein.
But in 1990, his kidneys deteriorated further and he had to go on dialysis to clean his blood of poisons. Yet, apart from an operation in his arm to increase blood flow, he has barely had a day off sick. "I enjoy my job so much," he says, "and I enjoy the normality school offers me. I did get quite tired, but my headteacher has always been supportive, so I've never wanted to miss a day of work."
Although Nader was careful to adapt his diet again - this time reducing fluid intake and avoiding foods high in potassium, such as fruit and phosphates found in dairy products - his kidney function continued to decline. And because he is Persian, it was highly unlikely he would find a new genetically suitable kidney. In 1995, his 65-year-old mother stepped in and donated hers.
"She said it was like giving birth to me a second time," he says. "For 10 years I had a new lease of life. I didn't have to be on dialysis and got stronger every day. It was a remarkable gift."
Unfortunately, Nader's new kidney began to fail three years ago, forcing him back on to dialysis, although this time for just four hours every other day. He is on the transplant waiting list but it is highly unlikely an available kidney will match his ethnicity.
"The chances are very low," he says, "but the technology is so much better these days. I feel quite refreshed after the dialysis."
The Government is debating a shift in the law concerning organ donations. Currently, doctors need permission from the next of kin before removing organs but "presumed consent" could save more lives.
Spain, which automatically places everyone on the donor register unless they opt out, now has the highest proportion of organ donors in the world. In the UK, less than a third of people with CKD get the kidney transplant they need.
- More than 3 million people in the UK have chronic kidney disease.
- Approximately 80 per cent of the 8,000 people on the organ waiting list require a kidney.
- High blood pressure or diabetes can cause CKD.
- South Asian or African Caribbeans are three to five times more susceptible.
- Kidney cancer has risen by 68 per cent in the past 20 years.
- If you have raised blood pressure or are suffering from water retention, ask your GP for a blood test to check f or CKD.
- Visit www.worldkidneyday.org or www.kidneyresearchuk.org for more information.
Kids Kidney Research is marking World Kidney Day with a free information pack, aimed at primary schools, with teacher information, plus a selection of practical, water-based investigations and online activities. It can be downloaded at www.kidskidneyresearch.org.