SAN ANTONIO – March is National Kidney Month, and one of the most well-known advocates for kidney disease awareness is Spurs legend and broadcaster Sean Elliott.
It’s been almost 30 years since Elliott was diagnosed with a form of chronic kidney disease. Elliott was 25 years old and in the prime of his career when he learned about his condition.
“I was blindsided by kidney disease. I thought I was a healthy young man because I was in great physical shape, and I played in the NBA, and it was something that was really eye-opening. I had no idea that it had been building all these years,” Elliott said.
Elliott was diagnosed after the 1993 regular season. He lived and played with the disease for years, but his condition worsened to the extent that doctors told him he needed a transplant in 1999 or he may not live much longer.
“As the years progressed, they figured out that I had what’s called FSG, or focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, which is a hardening or scarring of your filters in your kidney. I probably should have been on dialysis at that time,” Elliott said. “I had low energy, a lot of water retention, loss of appetite. I just wasn’t clear-headed. But at that time, we had a chance to win the NBA championship, and I didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to play again.”
He battled through the season and had the transplant after the Spurs won the 1999 championship. His brother Noel donated one of his kidneys to Elliott.
“I knew that if I didn’t treat this with either dialysis or a kidney transplant, the chances were not about playing basketball again — it was that I wasn’t going to make it through the year ‘99,” Elliott said.
Elliott’s procedure was successful, and he and his brother, Noel, have lived healthy lives since, but doctors say kidney disease is a condition that often goes unnoticed until it’s too late.
“It affects 37 million Americans, and 90% of those people don’t know that they are struggling with chronic kidney disease,” said Dr. Milagros Martinez, a nephrologist with Renal Associates-San Antonio. “There are no symptoms at the beginning of chronic kidney disease, and for the majority of Americans, the cause of their kidney failure is due to high blood pressure, diabetes or a combination of both.”
The National Kidney Foundation says a simple blood and urine test can detect the disease, which is more common within minority communities.
“Here in South Texas, we are greatly affected by kidney failure. We have about 72,000 patients with significant kidney failure, kidney disease. And so we really need to step up prevention, awareness, education,” said Martinez. “The biggest things are getting screened, get your blood work done. If you are at risk, move forward with the blood work. It’s very simple to do, very simple to get a urine study.”
Elliott says since his battle, he’s wanted to use his platform to speak out on the importance of kidney disease awareness and how screenings can save your life or the lives of your loved ones. He teamed up with Fresenius Kidney Care to sound the alarm on the disease.
“Be diligent and be aware. Right now, there are a lot of health problems in our city, and a lot of them are preventable. Be proactive about taking care of yourselves, and you can prevent what I had to go through, what a lot of people go through,” said Elliott. “You’re going to be around to see your kids and your grandkids and your brothers, your sister and your family members grow up. And that’s the most important thing.
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