Fitness fanatic dad becomes research pioneer after kidney disease diagnosis
A super-fit father who rowed the distance from the Equator to the North Pole on a rowing machine has told of how his experience of kidney disease led to him becoming the first patient to take part in a groundbreaking research study run in Sheffield and Leeds.
Father-of-two Keith Smith, 61, of Huddersfield, was told by doctors that his fitness helped his body to cope with the kidney disease, despite the disease affecting his heart.
A retired chemical plant controller, Keith rowed 6,200 miles (10 million metres) between 2002 and 2008 on a rowing machine, rowing for over three hours most days, before he was diagnosed with an immune disorder affecting the kidneys.
Keith received treatment at St James’s University Hospital in Leeds and in 2010 became the first patient to participate in a research study run by a team of doctors from the Sheffield Kidney Institute (at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
The research, funded by the Sheffield Kidney Research Foundation (SKRF), showed the first clear evidence that kidney disease can damage the heart, in particular by affecting its ability to work harder during exercise or strenuous activity (called its cardiac reserve).
Keith said: “I was a true fitness fanatic – I loved getting on the rowing machine, and some days I was there at 5am so I could fit it around my work. I raised about £600 for the NSPCC while I did it. It gave me a real thrill.
“In 2008 I was diagnosed with an immune disorder affecting the kidneys. I had come under a lot of stress after my wife Sylvia died of cancer, which made things worse, but doctors said that my body was able to cope with a lot because of all the exercise I had done.”
Keith was approached by doctors to participate in the study, which measured the heart function of kidney patients with those with no kidney disease or heart problems. He continued: “I was really happy to take part in the study as I knew it could help lots of people in the future. I also knew I would make an interesting example as I was so fit.
“I simply had to go on a treadmill with an oxygen mask, walking for ten to fifteen minutes while doctors took some measurements. I enjoyed it and I was pleased to be the first person to take part in such an important study.
“My results showed that although my kidney disease had affected my heart, the fact that I had built up so much fitness meant it was still strong and it was able to cope well. I’m pleased I was able to use my time to help medical science and other patients in this way.”
Keith underwent a kidney transplant in Leeds in August 2011, and is now well on the road to recovery.
He continued: “The transplant has given me a new lease of life. Although I can no longer go on the rowing machine, I’m able to enjoy my retirement spending time with my partner and my family.”
Dr Shanmugakumar Chinnappa, Clinical Research Fellow at the Sheffield Kidney Institute, worked on the study. He said: “This is really important research as it shows for the first time that kidney disease and heart failure are linked. Nearly 50% of kidney patients die of heart disease, so it’s crucial we look into the area more closely.
“Our results showed that the patients with kidney disease had reduced cardiac reserve, despite not having an existing heart condition. The most likely cause of this link is that certain toxins that are usually filtered by the kidneys remain in the body in patients with kidney disease, causing heart damage.
“In Keith’s case, his heart was affected by his kidney disease, but if he wasn’t such a fit person in the first place then it would have been affected even more. What’s more Keith has been able to have excellent treatment to help him get better.
“These are very important findings as it means we can carry out further studies to see if, as clinicians, we can help prevent kidney patients developing heart problems and to treat them better if they do.”
The study results were published in the International Journal of Cardiology in November 2011.
Notes to editors
1. The pilot study was carried out at the Sheffield Kidney Institute and the Department of Nephrology and the Department of Cardiology at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
2. The research was published in an article, “New evidence of cardiac dysfunction associated with renal impairment”, International Journal of Cardiology, 2011 Nov 3; 152 (3): 411-3.
Released by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. For more information please contact Philip Wainwright, Research Communications Officer, on 0114 226 8989 or Philip.firstname.lastname@example.org