E-Kidney | SEPTEMBER 2012

For the Eckstein Family, Fighting Kidney Disease is a Team Sport

Eckstein Family

The Eckstein Family
Left to right - David, Rick, Ken, Pat, Christine, Susan

The Eckstein siblings of Sanford, Florida, have more in common than most families. They share an alma mater (University of Florida), a love of baseball and kidney dialysis equipment. Of the five children, three have experienced kidney failure and two are kidney donors.

“Growing up in a family where my Dad and most of my siblings had kidney disease gave me perspective on life and made me think about what’s really important,” says youngest brother, David, whose Major League Baseball career took him to Anaheim, San Diego and St. Louis where he earned the 2006 World Series MVP distinction. “My brother Rick, who coaches for the Washington Nationals, and I, always appreciated the opportunities we had in the sports world. Our family’s health hurdles made us go out there and give it everything we had every single day. We know firsthand that there are so many people who won’t ever have those chances.”

Echoing David’s comments, Rick says it was their Mom who held the family together with her no-nonsense approach to life. “Mom always said kidney disease was just another challenge in life. ‘Pick up your pants, put on your belt and go’ was her famous line. She knew when to baby us and when to push but mostly she pushed. She made sure my siblings moved ahead in life despite kidney disease.”

Their sister Christine, who received a transplant 21 years ago from a deceased donor after nearly two years on dialysis, and whose own three children have kidney disease, is the family’s unofficial spokesperson. “We’re an extremely close family but dealing with a life-altering disease brought us even closer. At any given time when we were growing up, one or two of us kids were on dialysis so the whole family had to be involved in planning. We all had to conserve finances to help with medical costs. When we went on vacation, we had to bring the dialysis equipment and everyone had to change the itinerary when someone felt sick. And yet, there was strength in numbers. We never felt overwhelmed or asked ‘why me?’ We just moved forward and together, we learned to manage our disease and any complications by ourselves.”

The Ecksteins are extremely health conscious as a group. For Christine, oldest brother Ken and sister Susan, eating right, exercising and watching blood pressure is essential to minimizing complications of kidney failure. For Rick, who donated his kidney to Ken in 2010 and David, who will donate shortly to Susan, taking care of their bodies is all about being healthy enough to give the gift of life to those they love.

When asked what advice they’d give to other families with kidney disease, all turn to Christine. “The family needs to come together and learn about all the treatment options. Get as much information as possible and see if there’s anyone you know who can donate a kidney. When I talk to people, I never sugarcoat. I give people the bare bones facts and I’ve been told that it gives them the strength to make decisions. I like for them to know what could happen if you don’t take care of yourself. People need to know that kidney disease can be a life and death situation, but that you can take control. I believe in being a zealous advocate for yourself and your family members.”

Christine sees the closeness she experienced in her immediate family developing among her own kids. “Kidney disease is just a part of our life. My children aren’t afraid of it. My brother Ken lived with us while he was on dialysis so we could all take care of him and my kids cried when he got the transplant because they knew he’d leave. When my daughter found out she had kidney disease at age 5, she was almost happy. She wanted to be just like her Mom and brothers. Although it was bittersweet, I felt I had done my job of making her feel fearless quite well when I saw her attitude.”

The Ecksteins are teaming up with the National Kidney Foundation to spread the word about kidney disease and the life-saving power of organ donation. They’re stepping out for the Kidney Walk and their efforts to educate about healthy lifestyle, getting tested early and protecting your kidneys are sure to hit a home run.