By Cynthia Flash/For the Kent Reporter
Owen Applequist of Kent is a man on a quest.
He’s out to prove that you can live an active life even with significant health challenges, and that chronic disease doesn’t relegate you to a life on the couch.
In Applequist’s case, the challenge is chronic kidney failure, which would be fatal in a matter of days without regular dialysis treatment or a kidney transplant.
His kidneys suddenly failed due to renal reflux at age 16. That was 22 years ago. The cause was uncommon, but not unheard of; most patients develop chronic kidney failure after a history of diabetes or uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Applequist is sharing his story now, during National Kidney Month, to raise awareness of kidney health and kidney disease, which affects more than 1 in 10 American adults.
As a teenager, Applequist would self-administer peritoneal dialysis treatments four times a day, every day to remove fluid and waste that his kidneys could no longer process. Then his father donated a kidney to him; that transplant lasted 20 years and failed in 2016. Applequist went to Northwest Kidney Centers for another 14 months of dialysis treatments.
He received a second donated kidney from his step-brother this past November. And he has battled cancer twice. Applequist sees these incidents as “minor setbacks,” and they haven’t stopped him.
An avid outdoorsman, he was a ski instructor and is believed to be the only kidney transplant recipient/cancer survivor to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa’s tallest mountain. He’s also climbed Mount Hood, Mount Adams and peaks in Iceland.
He recalls leading young adult survivors on outdoor climbing trips.
“I would push them out of their comfort zone. ‘Hey, you can do stuff,’ I’d say. ‘Being scared is fine. I scare myself on a regular basis, but it doesn’t mean you can’t do it,’ ” he said.
Applequist ski races, races motorcycles, plays golf and regularly works out at the gym. While looking for full-time employment as a data analyst, he tutors high school students in math and physics and serves on the Northwest Kidney Centers board of trustees.
He has participated in the World Transplant Games for people with organ transplants and is currently creating a team of transplant recipients to ski 200 kilometers across Iceland for eight or nine days next spring. He wants team members to represent all the organs that can be transplanted; he’s already lined up two kidney recipients, a kidney/pancreas recipient and a heart recipient. He’s on the lookout for lung and liver recipients to round out the team.
“When I went on dialysis two years ago, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do long adventures anymore. My life was dictated by my ability to get to a dialysis center every other day,” he recalled.
“I said, ‘When I get a transplant, I’m going to ski across Iceland.’ It was something I was going to do to prove that I’m physically fit again and back to my normal self.”
Applequist continues to encourage others to push their limits. He wouldn’t ask anything he doesn’t do himself.
Keep your kidneys healthy
• Follow prescribed treatments to control diabetes and/or high blood pressure.
• Lose extra weight with a healthy diet and regular exercise.
• Don’t overuse over-the-counter pain medicines.
• Don’t smoke.
• Eat less salt, and remember that there’s lots of it in processed and packaged food.
• Ask your doctor to test you for kidney disease if you are at risk – take a quiz to find out at nwkidney.org/quiz.