take care of your kidneys

I have looked at hundreds of death certificates the past few years.  All of them were issued after the death of a family member.  Some have been close relatives, many have been distant cousins.  I expected to see that the majority of deaths were due to heart attacks or stroke.  I was wrong.

Kidney disease has been far and away the biggest killer in the family.

When I was pregnant with my second child, my dad made an offhand comment about his mother having some sort of kidney disease.  I mentioned it to my OB/G and to my cousin who was also pregnant.  My daughter did not have anything wrong with her kidneys.  My cousin’s daughter did.  Since then I have wondered if the disease was actually genetic or just randomly happened.  If it was genetic, what side of the family was it coming from.

My father’s side is riddled with it.  There is a high incidence on his mother’s side, but his father’s side was riddled with it.  My great-great grandfather Leonidas Kirkland died from uremic convulsions (now known as uremic encephalopathy) as a result of Chronic Bright’s Disease.   His sister Mattie June died of uremic coma due to hydronephrosis.  She had been operated on in June of 1899 at Johns Hopkins.  His brother Arthur died of polycystic kidney disease.  His daughter Mildred died of polycystic kidney disease.  My great-grandmother Gussie lost her sister Vertie to uremia due to chronic nephritis.  My great-great-grandmother Emma Clark died of Chronic Bright’s Disease.

When you see all the greats and great-greats, you have a tendency to think of this as being in the distant past.  It isn’t.  A horrible bout with kidney stones reminded me that some things are part of the human experience.  Medical advances can repair or treat, but that doesn’t necessarily prevent something happening to your kidneys or heart or any other part of the body.

Family History

We moved a few times while I was growing up:  Durham, NC to Lenoir, NC to Pulaski, VA to Greensburg, IN to Kennebunk, ME to Charlottesville, VA.    Durham was always home base.  Durham was where both sets of grandparents lived, where my great grandmother lived, where my great uncle Sonny lived, where my great-great uncles Norman, Erskin and Clyde lived.  Durham was where we all returned to either in the summer or Christmas or both.  My uncles and aunts and cousin would be there.  Durham was loud and cozy, full of energy and love.

Durham was home.

In 1976, my great great uncles Norman and Clyde died.  In 1977, my great-grandmother died.  In 1978, my grandfather Buck died.  Durham was full of holes.

But my great aunt Mimi gave me a gift.  She gave me a copy of the family tree that she and her mother had worked on.  Well, mostly her mother.  She told me a story about how her great-grandmother  Susie had met and fallen in love with a dashing young man name Henry.  She pointed to other names and explained they had donated land so that the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill would have a place to be built.

For the past 37 years, I have added hundreds of names to the family tree.  But the names and dates have more meaning when stories can be added.  Family history may seem pointless to many, but knowing something about all those who came before me and what they did and how they affected their community is priceless.