Kidneys in the Summer: Tips from a Transplant Recipient
“It’s hot, and you need a pool!” That was the catchphrase of a local swimming pool supplier
near where I used to live. If I close my eyes, I can still see the salesman’s face. As a kid,
nothing was better than a pool in the summertime. That is probably still the case for most, but as a kidney transplant recipient, I have adjusted the way I go about my outdoor activities,
especially in the summer.
A transplanted organ is a tremendous feat of science, medicine, and technology. As wonderful and life-saving as it is, there are still precautions transplanted patients need to implement to keep their gift healthy.
Did you know a side effect of immunosuppressive medication is an increased risk of skin
cancer? The medication suppresses your white blood cells to help protect the “foreign object” in your body. Because of lower white blood cells, your body is more prone to infection, and in the case of sun exposure and your skin, melanoma. The good news is you do not need to be afraid of the sun! You can protect your skin in a variety of ways. The most common is sunscreen. However, not all sunscreens are created equal. For us immunocompromised, we need to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF 30 protection. Any area of your skin exposed to the sun needs protection, so don’t forget your face, hands, fingers, and even your head!
Another option to protect your skin is wearing UPF rated clothing. Clothing is a great way to
cover a lot of your skin without the oily, sticky feeling that can sometimes occur with
sunscreen. Clothing rated UPF 50 is your best bet for maximum protection. And as a bonus,
you do not need to wear sunscreen under it! Many options are lightweight materials designed to keep you cool(er). Keep in mind if you travel a lot, wearing sunscreen or UPF 50 clothing is still important. Just because you are in a car, there is a lot of ambient UPF reaching your body. I have a couple of go-to brands of apparel so send me a message if you would like recommendations.
Do you know how much water you consume in a day? I’m not talking about the hot bean water many of us consume with our breakfast. Straight up water. I do my best to drink almost 68 ounces of water a day. In case you are a metric fan, that’s 2-liters. Water for transplanted
organs (and your native organs) is so important because it keeps them flushed. Think of your
kidneys as sponges. When a sponge is really wet, the liquid is constantly dripping out. If a
sponge does not have much liquid to absorb, it dries up. Your kidneys are the same way. No
one likes a dry kidney.
While 2-liters is a lot of water, it is totally manageable. My favorite way is using a one-liter
bottle. I know if I have two per day, I’m in good shape. Another way to give yourself a challenge every day is to use a water bottle with either the ounces or the time of day printed on the bottle. With the times listed, it’s a great way to gauge how much you should be drinking, usually in two-hour increments. If you hit all of the benchmarks, you feel accomplished! If you are a technology fan, some water bottles will light up when it’s time to take a sip. Or simply setting alarms on your phone would suffice.
But it’s summer, right? If we are being honest, we sweat just walking to our vehicles. Additional water is encouraged during the summer months or exerting extra energy, such as exercise, mowing the lawn, or helping your friend move into the fourth-floor apartment.
If being mindful of skin protection and water consumption seems like one more thing to think about in your day, implement a strategy for taking care of your body. Transition your wardrobe to UPF 50 clothing. Lather up with the broad-spectrum sunscreen before the softball game. Better yet, keep a small bottle with you next to your hand sanitizer. If you are in line for a transplant or have had one for years, you have already had to change your lifestyle, right? Protecting your skin and keeping your body hydrated are additional ways you can do your part to keep your gift of life in the best condition.