Martina Akumdi Lekwauwa genuinely helps others.
It’s just her nature, her personality as a longtime nurse and midwife – a career that began in her native Nigeria where she cared for the poor and disadvantaged and continued, most recently, with the Seattle & King County Public Health Department serving Seattle’s High Point housing community.
Many patients came to depend on the warmhearted woman with the grand smile.
“I’ve worked all my life taking care of people,” said the 60-year-old Kent woman, who came to the United States in 1992 to continue her career in nursing and support her family. “I’ve worked to help those in my country and those here. I love to help people, to give to people.”
So it came with great difficulty for Lekwauwa when she became seriously ill and needed immediate care. The sudden role reversal – from nurse to patient – was uncomfortable to Lekwauwa, a single mother of three fully-grown sons.
“I was moving things and felt a pain in my leg, and I wanted to know what that was all about, the swelling,” she said of the episode five years ago. “It got worse, up to a point where I could not walk.”
Told she had kidney disease, Lekwauwa became weak, losing 55 pounds. Told her kidneys had stopped working, she was immediately placed on dialysis and put on a waiting list for a kidney transplant.
It’s been a slow process but Lekwauwa has rebounded. Her smile is back.
She spends four hours a day, three days a week, getting dialysis treatment at the Northwest Kidney Centers clinic in Kent. She hopes to resume working part-time, perhaps as a volunteer, at a nearby hospital or clinic, but understands her limitations.
“She’s doing great. It’s not an easy life being a dialysis patient,” said Glenda Brown, a social worker for Northwest Kidney Centers. “Martina is special. She’s has remarkable energy and an unbelievable work ethic. She’s just very determined to try to work while she dialyzes. I give her a tremendous amount of respect for that.”
Lekwauwa vows to regain her feet, the strength to be around family, especially when it come to doting on her three grandchildren. One day she would like to return to Nigeria to reunite with family and friends.
“I just want to get my life back,” she said, “not just for me, but for (those who need me).”
One in 10 American adults, more than 20 million, have some level of chronic kidney disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Chronic kidney disease often gets worse over time. However, the progression can be slowed down or stopped if people get diagnosed early and change their lifestyles to foster healthier habits.
If kidney disease progresses to kidney failure, it’s life-threatening. Only regular dialysis treatments or a kidney transplant will keep the patient alive.
With March being National Kidney Month, Lekwauwa urges others to seek proper treatment, eat a careful diet and follow a physician’s orders to combat the disease. Screening tests are easy, affordable and important for people at increased risk.
Northwest Kidney Centers’ website – www.nwkidney.org – offers information about kidney disease, diagnosis, treatment, classes and recipes.
Such a careful approach has helped a recovering Lekwauwa.
“I’m feeling well right now. It’s working for me,” she said. “I look like me now.”