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“Nail salon discovery changed my life”

20 May 2024

A routine trip to a nail salon in February 2022, led Louise Whymark to the shock discovery that she had been living with kidney disease. She says: “I went to have my nails done and told my nail technician that I had a problem with one of my toenails. She had a look and told me I needed to go to the doctors to check for an infection.”

Tests at the doctor’s revealed abnormally high blood pressure and a fast heart rate. Louise says: “I was admitted into hospital. My blood pressure was in the stroke zone and my heart rate was in the cardiac arrest zone. They did a kidney biopsy and I found out my kidney function had declined to 22%. It all happened so quickly and was a real shock to me and my family. It has been difficult to come to terms with.”

Lady in hospital have in her blood pressure taken with monitor strapped around her upper arm
Louise Whymark

Nails can display symptoms

Fingernails and toenails can reveal signs of kidney damage, appearing discoloured or displaying changes in texture or shape. This can be caused by kidney disease, which affects kidney function and blood circulation. As the body has difficulties removing waste products like blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine, these substances can build up in the bloodstream, creating physical changes, such as those seen in nails. It is important to visit your doctor if you notice these symptoms.

Louise, 34 years old from Manningtree, was diagnosed with a form of kidney disease called IgA nephropathy and began seeing a kidney consultant regularly to monitor her kidney function. She says: “I don’t think people talk about diseases enough. I wasn’t aware I had any symptoms and if I hadn’t gone to the doctors when my nail technician said I should, then I’d probably be none the wiser, until a point where I’d have become even more poorly.”

I’ve lost over five stone

Louise knew that with her kidney disease, came the inevitable need for dialysis or a transplant to keep her alive. However, she was told that she needed to lose weight before she could be added to the transplant waiting list.

Louise says: “You think in your mind that you’ll never do it, but I’ve kept quite positive throughout the whole situation and any hurdles I’ve hit, I’ve just tackled them. I was put on a strict low salt diet, and it was just a case of cutting out certain foods, rather than taking up lots of exercise. I’m not really a gym person!”

Her determination has led Louise to lose over five stone in under two years by sticking to her new diet and she was added to the transplant list in October 2023. She says: “It has been tough mentally and physically, but remaining positive has helped me through everything so far. I just have to wait for that call for a transplant and when I get it, I’ll be ready.”

females pictured on the left before her weight loss and pictured on eh right after her weight loss.
Louise, before and after weight loss
Louise having haemodialysis with her sister keeping her company
Louise with her sister during her treatment

Adjusting to a new way of living

In November 2023, Louise’s kidney function dropped to just 6%, meaning that haemodialysis became necessary. This requires her to visit a dialysis ward three times a week, for up to four hours at a time, to receive treatment.

Louise says: “I’ve had to adjust to a new way of living because dialysis is part of my day-to-day life until I can get a transplant. I was just living a normal life before everything happened, working and spending time with family and friends.

“I’m lucky I have a very good support network in my family and some close friends. My sister comes along to dialysis with me at least once a week to give me some company. Kidney disease has a knock-on effect on everyone around you because they have to watch you go through it too.

“I also want to thank all the staff at Colchester Dialysis Unit for all their hard work and support. They are an amazing group of people and have made the transition to life on dialysis less overwhelming.”

Louise had to take more than six months off work, but now she is returning two days a week with the hope that she’ll feel able to take on more again soon.

Although people close to Louise know about her struggles, she finds it harder for others to understand. She says: “When I’ve told people I’ve got kidney disease, some people would look at me and say, ‘there doesn’t look like there’s anything wrong with you’. I might look perfectly fine but inside my body is saying differently.”

Football is my escape

Despite kidney disease turning her world upside down over the past two years, Louise tries to keep as much normality in her life as possible. She says: “I’m a season ticket holder at Ipswich Town so I’m quite lucky that I’ve still been able to do that. I see that as my escape. When I go to football, I can switch off from everything, so I don’t think about the fact I’ve got kidney disease, and it gives me some normality.”

Louise has also set some lofty ambitions for her and her friends once she has had her transplant. She says: “A group of us have decided that once I’ve had the transplant, we’re going to tackle the Dare Skywalk over Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium to raise money for Kidney Research UK. It links in my love of football and fear of heights!”

Read more about people living with kidney disease

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