I have experienced eating too much of what I shouldn’t have, and it is something that I really do not want to do again
Kidney patient Kola Ponnle’s recollections of Christmas are filled with memories of his home country of Nigeria and the sweet taste of chocolate and other indulgent treats. Now based in Cardiff, the tax officer’s festive experience is a far more restrictive and regulated time in a season full of temptation.
In 2007, Kola was diagnosed with aHUS syndrome – a form of kidney disease that causes abnormal blood clots to form in small blood vessels inside the kidneys. Soon after the discovery of his condition, Kola was told that he would need life-saving dialysis treatment in order to keep him alive.
A transplant is not a cure
He initially found the treatment difficult to adjust to and felt exhausted after every session. Kola attempted a transplant twice, with his first one in 2008 failing very quickly, his second in 2014 lasted for a total of four years. In that time, Kola was able to achieve a lot, landing a great job and having a son.
Unfortunately, transplantation is not a cure and in 2018, he was back on dialysis. Christmas for Kola is now about resisting the temptation of overindulging during the festive period.
“Initially, I found it very difficult to adapt to all the rules around what to eat and what you must avoid,” Kola explains. “Human nature tells you to go against the restrictive diet, but it can have severe consequences if you choose to do so.
“Chocolate is my biggest weakness but as it increases potassium levels in the blood, I can only have it in small quantities which can be frustrating around the festive period. Things like milkshakes and eggnog can have the same effect which is why you have to be so careful and not eat in high quantities. Meat can also be an issue as it contains a high level of phosphates which can make you very poorly, so an extra helping of turkey is definitely off the menu.”
The risks of overindulging at Christmas
For Kola, overindulging at Christmas is more serious than winter weight gain or a seasonal hangover. Patients on dialysis are unable to effectively filter the waste from their blood, which means that increases in certain minerals in the blood can make people very ill and is a feeling that Kola knows all too well.
“In the beginning, there were times where I would eat too much of what I shouldn’t and end up being seriously ill even to the point of being admitted to hospital. Even after you’ve had a chance for the dialysis machine to filter the toxins out of your blood, you still feel poorly as four hours just isn’t enough to clean all of it. I don’t think you quite appreciate just how much your kidneys do for your body and how much damage can be done to yourself without them.”
After plenty of time to get to grips with his temptations, Kola now understands the importance of maintaining a restrictive diet.
“I have experienced eating too much of what I shouldn’t have, and it is something that I really do not want to do again,” he says. “I have gotten so used to keeping my discipline that it now just seems like second nature to me. I still indulge from time to time, particularly with chocolate, but I just satisfy myself and know when to stop eating. I understand that it can be a very scary time if you are experiencing your first Christmas on dialysis, but just try your best to obey the rules and remember that you are not alone in experiencing this and look for the positives in life and you will be amazed at what you can achieve.”
A kidney friendly diet
Many people who are living with chronic kidney disease can get all the vitamins and nutrients they need by following a healthy, well balanced diet. However, there are times when kidney patients may need to follow a restricted diet.
Check out our advice on healthy eating and things to consider if you are living with kidney disease.