Generally, young women in their 20s do not have to learn how to live life on dialysis. It is not common to hear stories about young people facing rare autoimmune conditions.
But, Kala Miller, a Denison resident who just recently reached the age of 22, discovered she was living with late stage renal failure forcing her into dialysis and a year-long stay in a hospital shortly after her 20th birthday.
It was the summer of 2018 as Miller was barely getting over the passing of both her parents that she learned her kidneys were being attacked by antibodies from her own immune system. That was when she learned she is suffering from a condition known as Goodpasture’s syndrome.
Goodpasture’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease where antibodies mistakenly attack collagen in the lungs and kidneys. It is more common for the disease to affect men between the ages of 20-30 and individuals over the age of 60. The first signs of the illness include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, breathing issues and pale skin.
It was simply high blood pressure that sent her into the hospital to seek treatment.
“I was admitted into the hospital two days later,” Miller said. “I lost half my blood volume in those two days. They had to admit me to the ICU where they flushed out my blood. I was in the hospital a whole month that second stay. A couple of weeks later, I started having seizures.”
Miller has since learned she is living a life with limited options and has to watch everything she does carefully.
The slightest infection could send her straight to the emergency room, Miller’s grandmother Karen Harrison said. Things like tomatoes or foods high in potassium can be harmful to Miller. She can’t even enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
While faith plays a big role in Miller’s ability to stay positive despite her dependence on daily 12-hour dialysis treatments, friends and family is where she finds strength.
“I want people to not give up on their dreams,” Miller said. “There is always something out there for you. Life is too short. Do what you want to do now while you can. I waited too long. Don’t wait to follow your dreams.”
Miller wants to become a blacksmith. She loves working with horses and wants to get into a field that would allow her a chance to be around her favorite animal. Her favorite pastime is horseback riding which she does as often as she can.
“Nothing is small,” Miller said. “When I first lost my mom it was the hardest thing in my life. She passed away a week and a half before my birthday. I will never forget that day. Life never felt the same without her. It didn’t seem the same. Losing my dad didn’t hurt me as I didn’t have a relationship with him. I never talked to him. This is the biggest obstacle for me: having this health situation. I never thought I would be the one to go through something like this. It’s like the Lord is showing me I have the strength to continue living. Nothing can stop me. I can pursue anything I want to if I stay strong.”
Harrison, a registered nurse, doesn’t know how they missed the warning signs. While her granddaughter had kidney stones when she was younger, Harrison did not think much about it as Miller got older. It took Miller noticing her high blood pressure was causing vomiting and other symptoms before she realized she needed help.
One of the things that makes Miller’s situation even more interesting is that the disease is generally hereditary. Yet, Harrison said there isn’t anyone with a history of it in her family to her knowledge.
“This was a shock to my system,” Harrison said. “I knew about dialysis. I had to be trained on it as a nurse. I have a closet full of the equipment. It was a shock for me. We have to be careful to make sure she doesn’t get an infection. We have to make sure she doesn’t get potassium. Infections are really bad. She has to be so careful with what she does — how she washes her hands. It is an every day ongoing process. You get used to it, but it’s still there.”
The disease doesn’t just attack her kidneys, it also causes problems with her lungs. Her grandmother said if she gets a new kidney, that is only the beginning. She still has no guarantee Goodpasture’s syndrome will not return to damage that kidney, too.
“I have to be careful due to the high blood pressure,” Miller said. “I can’t be around yelling or else it could trigger my seizures. I try to live as normal a life as I can aside from the stuff I can’t do. If I don’t get a kidney I will be on dialysis for the rest of my life.”