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Regaining health - one step at a time

The Kidney Society offers a free Wellness Programme for people with chronic kidney disease. It's being supported with a grant from ANZ's Staff Foundation.


If you love your job, you probably don’t want to be out of work, but that’s not the case for Tracey Drinkwater, the Wellness Educator for the Kidney Society.


She oversees the Kidney Society’s Wellness Programme for people with chronic kidney disease, helping them to stay active and well.


In an ideal world, she says her job wouldn’t exist, as there would be more awareness and more work being done to prevent people developing the condition.


“Most people probably don’t think about their kidneys until something goes wrong,” she says.


“Unfortunately, two of the main reasons for end stage kidney disease are unmanaged high blood pressure and diabetes.”


If your kidneys aren’t working properly, harmful toxins can build up; leading to symptoms like high blood pressure, extreme tiredness, persistent headaches and swelling in the face or ankles.


But in the early stages of the disease people often don’t realise what’s happening.


Tracey recommends people try to get their blood pressure checked on a regular basis; something that can be done at a GP or pharmacy.


“If you get your car warrant of fitness once a year why aren’t you getting your body warrant once a year?”


"If you can feel your achieving something you can take next step to achieving something bigger, and then something bigger again."

Tracey Drinkwater, Kidney Society Wellness Educator



It is estimated that one in ten New Zealanders suffer from kidney disease.


People with more advanced disease will face the prospect of either a kidney transplant or dialysis treatment (the filtering of the blood by a machine, often for hours several times each week).


“For anyone with chronic kidney disease it’s really important to look after yourself,” says John Loof, the Society’s Chief Executive.


“That means doing the best you can with your dialysis, your nutrition, taking your medication – and keeping as fit and mobile and independent as you can.”


“Some people can join a gym and follow a regular workout program” says Tracey. “But for others this can be too much.”


“That doesn’t mean you can’t improve your fitness and the way you feel about yourself. The trick is to find a way to exercise that is right for you.


“A lot of the things we start with in the Wellness Programme are really basic - like hand exercises, foot exercises and postural exercises.”


The majority of the people in the programme are in the more advanced stages of the disease, with less than 25 per cent kidney function.


“For a lot of the people we see it can be really tough. They have gone from being independent, working and providing for their family or being physically active.


“All of a sudden that changes. That has a huge emotional toll and takes away a lot of their mana.”


“If you can feel your achieving something you can take next step to achieving something bigger, and then something bigger again.”


One participant in the Wellness program says “I was tired of going to my GP and being told the same things that I needed to do, like lose weight and eat less of this and that.”


“The problem was all they could do was point out the obvious things, with no practical solution or program to achieve it.


“Tracey's advice on suitable exercises and videos were perfectly suited for me as they were low impact and didn't require the flexibility of a ballerina.”


The ANZ Staff Foundation made a grant to help the Wellness Program – which is available throughout Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Tairawhiti/Gisborne and Hawkes Bay.


“It’s inspiring to see the work that Tracey and her colleagues are doing,” says David Bricklebank, the chair of the Trust’s Advisory Committee.


“They’re not just helping people with their physical health, but their resilience and confidence too.”


The Society has expanded its services to include a wellness and exercise channel on YouTube, with videos offering exercises to improve a range of functions like strength, breathing and posture.


Tracey and her colleagues have helped over 1500 people since the programme was launched in 2005.


“It might not seem like a big thing to some people, but being able to do your own housework or do your own shopping and continue to live independently those are things many of us take for granted.”


“Every day I do my job I am just blown away with the people I work with. They’re so determined to live the best life they can."


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