Walk for Kidneys: For Chicago Heights woman, it’s personal
Jameria Smith, 24, of Chicago Heights, had no idea five years ago that her life would be turned upside down because of poor health.
Smith entered Prairie State College after graduating from Bloom Trail High School with the same expectations for her future as many other college students might have.
But while working one day at her job at Simply Fashion in Olympia Fields, Smith said she “got really sick and actually passed out.”
“Extremely high blood pressure” put her in the ICU at St. James Hospital, Smith said.
She was later diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.
Smith is one of millions of Americans with chronic kidney disease, according to the National Kidney Foundation website, www.kidney.org. One in three Americans is at risk. According to the website, kidney disease that goes undetected for a long period of time often progresses to kidney failure, “which requires dialysis or a kidney transplant to maintain life.”
Dialysis has been the reality for Smith for the last two years because her condition continued to deteriorate after her diagnosis.
Smith said in 2012, her blood pressure again became dangerously high, and she was retaining water, developing rashes and experiencing a metallic taste in her mouth.
“I had to start dialysis and that’s when things started to change,” Smith said.
Her treatment — three times a week for four hours a day — is not something Smith would choose to go through to start her day, but she hasn’t let it change her life any more than necessary.
“I pretty much still get to do everything that I want to do,” Smith said. “I go around 5 a.m. and I’m done about 9 (a.m.). The only adjustment is me getting up early, which I actually hate.”
Smith said she hopes to be able to have home dialysis treatments in the fall when she begins studies at the French Pastry School in Chicago to fulfill her goal to learn baking and cake art.
Smith has other goals, too. An immediate goal is to raise money as the head of Sweet’s Supporters, a team of 10 of Smith’s family members who will participate in the 15th annual 5K Walk for Kidneys hosted by the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois on Sunday. Smith said the funds will help raise kidney disease awareness, pay for screening and testing, fund research and support a camp for kids with kidney disease.
Scott MacIntyre, an “American Idol” finalist, will perform at the fundraiser and tell his personal story, one that is similar to Smith’s. At 19, MacIntyre was diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure and began undergoing dialysis. After two years, he was given the gift of a donor kidney by the wife of MacIntyre’s former piano teacher.
Smith has not yet had a kidney transplant, a procedure that would free her from dialysis and give her back her life.
Because her mother, Yolanda Gillespie, and father, Donald Smith, both have hypertension, they cannot be donors, and Smith has no siblings.
But she is hopeful. Smith is on the donor list in Illinois and Wisconsin and is “in the process” of getting on the Indiana donor list, she said.
“I would encourage people to become living donors,” Smith said. She said living donors’ kidneys are the optimal organ for a transplant, and the donor’s health throughout the process is always a top priority with the medical staff.
“They won’t allow (donors’) lives to be in harm’s way to save someone else,” Smith said.