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Diagnosis has COURIER reporter making big lifestyle changes

On March 5 of this year, COURIER education and sports reporter Landus Rigsby was hospitalized with stage 5 kidney failure. Now on medical leave from the newspaper, he is experiencing huge life changes that include changes in his diet, taking things easier and undergoing regular dialysis treatments.

Although he faces serious new challenges, Mr. Rigsby’s condition is something he’s grateful for every day. It could have been much worse.

When he arrived at the hospital, the first number on his blood pressure reading was 205. This “insanely high” number, which put Mr. Rigsby dangerously close to having a stroke, helps give him perspective.

“Even though I was in the condition I was in, I immediately thanked God that it was only as bad as it was,” he said. “And there’s a solution to it. That’s why I’ve been able to be positive.”

As Mr. Rigsby takes the first steps to get on an organ donor list, the solution currently lies in dialysis, a process for which he heads to a medical center 3 times a week. During the 4 to 4 1/2-hour sessions, he is hooked up to a machine that does what his kidneys once did–clean his blood of waste and excess water.

The sessions, which he undergoes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, take up “the best part of the day,” from 2:15 to 6:30 p.m.

Every cloud has a silver lining. For Mr. Rigsby, that cloud has recently been tinged with purple and gold.

Because of the time involved, each chair at the dialysis center is equipped with a TV. Along with catching up with the news, Mr. Rigsby has been able to follow the Lakers as they progress from end-of-season March Madness games to their current place in the playoffs.

“I have been watching NBA basketball in a way that I haven’t watched it in at least a decade,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to sit down and watch a full game. I’m finding a little bit more appreciation of it.”

Appreciation is a big theme with Mr. Rigsby.

After 10 days in the hospital, he’s thankful to get outside, and to spend more time at home with his wife and 8-year-old daughter Monet. And he’s grateful for something he never thought much about before: herbs.

Mr. Rigsby must avoid salt and potassium, restrictions that keep him from even healthy-sounding fare like orange juice, bananas, tomato sauce and cheese. He is no longer able to enjoy his favorite foods, pizza and enchiladas, or splurge on “a big old carne asada burrito, all seasoned and salty, with pico de gallo.” His current, non-restricted guilty pleasure is animal crackers.

The things he can eat, like a home-cooked burger, are no longer flavored with salt. Instead, he and his wife have taken to seasoning his food with garden-grown flavor enhancers like cilantro, oregano and basil.

“That stuff really works,” he said. “I’ve become so used to not having salt. I can really appreciate those different additions to food.”

Another addition Mr. Rigsby will soon be enjoying is more daytime hours. He recently had an operation to install a port that will allow for home dialysis. In about a month, he will be able to treat himself a few times a week while he sleeps. The freed-up time will allow him to work and to “resume somewhat of a normal life.”

“I can’t do everything I used to do, but I can do a lot of things,” Mr. Rigsby said. “I don’t have to be bedridden. There are no doctor’s orders that I can’t go outside a lot of the time.”

Mr. Rigsby, who turns 33 this Friday, has always spent a lot of time active and out of doors. He has also, especially in recent years, tried to eat organically. It is because of his healthy lifestyle that Mr. Rigsby ignored the signs his kidneys were deteriorating. 

“There were little things that probably could have been cause for alarm but, because I was able to work through them, I shook them off,” he said. “Things came and went and, for the most part, I felt good…[but] apparently there was something wrong and kind of coming to a head.”

What was wrong was Berger’s disease, a condition that causes the body to produce an antibody that views the kidneys as foreign objects instead of vital organs, and attacks them.

Having a name for what happened doesn’t give Mr. Rigsby back his kidneys. It does, however, save him time.

“When I’m going to these medical appointments, they say, ‘How did you end up here?’ I say, ‘I have Berger’s disease.’ It’s cut down on the amount of stuff I have to say by about 3 minutes.”

The diagnosis has also given him a new question.

“If I get a new kidney, how are [doctors] going to neutralize that antibody so it doesn't destroy the new kidney?” he wonders.

Mr. Rigsby is taking the many questions, emotions and insights spurred by his recent health issues to the blogosphere. He has already posted 4 entries on a blog called Landus’ Renal Recovery, accessible at landusrenalrecovery.blogspot.com.

“It gives me the ability to write my thoughts out and to be able to have an outlet to say the things I’m feeling and thinking,” he said. “In a sense, it’s almost like a therapy.”

The blog may help someone who is going through a similar experience. It’s also a way for Mr. Rigsby, who is used to turning out 2 to 3 stories per COURIER edition, to keep busy.

“I don’t want to be a vegetable. I still want to be productive with the skills I have,” he said.

For the many readers who have asked about Mr. Rigsby, visiting his blog is a great way to get up to speed on his condition and to enjoy his writing, which has been missed in the COURIER. The blog is connected to a Paypal account so that anyone who wishes can make a donation to offset the Rigsby family’s growing medical expenses.

“If you can not or choose not to, please do not feel guilty as I am still very happy you have visited the blog,” he emphasizes in his first blog post. 

For Mr. Rigsby, recovery is about learning what treatments are out there, expressing himself and keeping the faith. It’s also about lending his new perspective to others.

“One of the lessons I’ve learned is this: If my body has any kind of message it’s trying to send to me, even if I can push through it, check it out.”

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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