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Profile of Hope: Debra Jackson talks about her “wake up call” to follow a healthy lifestyle

Debra Jackson has been dealing with high blood pressure for over 25 years and recently found out she had other illnesses; some caused by her high blood pressure.  Here, she shares her experiences over the past six months and also tells us how important it is for people, like herself, to manage their high blood pressure before it gets worse or causes dangerous diseases like kidney failure.

Q: Did your high blood pressure affect your life in any other way besides kidney disease?

A: Around the time I was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney disease, I also learned I had two conditions that were unrelated to my high blood pressure - but they helped me do healthy things that have helped improve my blood pressure. One is Raynaud's Phenomenon and the other Scleroderma.  Because of this, I had to see several doctors within a month, and take different kinds of medications to figure out which ones worked well together.  It was all very scary.  I found a doctor who actually explained to me how exercise worked to reduce blood pressure by opening up the blood vessels, so that blood would flow more freely.  Once I knew how it worked, I was more motivated to exercise and improve my lifestyle because I knew it would make me feel better and improve my health.

With all of these different conditions, I really have to pay attention to my medication and the foods I eat.  The diet for high blood pressure (hypertension) is very different from the diet for kidney disease.  For example, foods that are high in potassium such as bananas or broccoli, are not good for people with kidney disease, but are very good for people with high blood pressure.  Because of this, I have had to stop eating certain green vegetables and fruits that are high in potassium.  To help me remember all of this, I carry a list with me that details high and low potassium foods.  When the kidneys don't work as well as they used to, your body can't break down certain nutrients, so you have to be aware of the foods that are good and bad for you. 

Q: So, after having high blood pressure for 25 years, it took finding out that it affected other parts of your body and health to gain the motivation needed to make changes to your lifestyle?

A: Yes.  Actually, one of my "wake up calls" was the fear that I might have cancer.  During the time I was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney disease, my doctor also did a blood test and noticed I had an unusual protein in my blood.  She sent me to a hematologist to have it checked out.  A hematologist is a doctor who specializes in studying disease in the blood.  When I got to the doctor's office, I found out he also worked in oncology, which is a doctor who specializes in cancer.  This was very scary for me-to possibly have cancer on top of everything else.  The doctor said he wanted to do a bone marrow test to test for lymphoma.  I didn't know what kind but I knew it was bad.  When the doctor explained the procedure he said, "We will go into the hip bone and dig out some of the bone marrow and look at it under a microscope." 

Now I'm thinking, I've got high blood pressure (hypertension), kidneys that my doctor is saying might have to go on dialysis [or have a transplant] and now I have a doctor saying he is looking for cancer.  So I was completely terrified, which was the other thing that got me to follow a healthier lifestyle-- and I've stayed there ever since.  

Though I was nervous about the pain and impact of the bone marrow test, once it was done I realized that my fears were unfounded - it was not that painful.  Even better, the bone marrow test showed that I did not have lymphoma and will most likely not develop lymphoma within a 20 year period.  Even so, dealing with tests for all of these health conditions helped me realize how serious of a problem my high blood pressure (hypertension) is and has gotten me to take some very large steps to eat right and exercise.

Read more about Debra Jackson by clicking the links below:

To listen to our interview with Debra Jackson, click here.

Profiles of Hope are health testimonials with Northern Manhattan community members written by HHPC and reviewed by our Health Advisory Board.

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