“IF I hadn’t gone on dialysis, I would have been dead within a fortnight,” said mum-of-three Natalie Jones.
The Wrexham woman, 30, was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus, an auto-immune condition, when she was 18.
For 10 years, Natalie dealt with the fatigue and joint pain caused by the disease until her health took a dramatic turn when her kidneys failed.
“Lupus causes a variety of different problems,” she said. “It’s hard to diagnose because it can mimic other diseases. When I was 16 or so, I started getting joint pain.
“When my son was born, it was a difficult birth and the shock of it affected my organs. I was in intensive care for a while and that’s when they diagnosed it.”
Natalie went on to have two more children, Zoe, four and Sam, three, while holding down a job as a conservation assistant at Erddig Hall outside Wrexham.
But in 2011, her body started bloating with excess water.
She said: “I had regular check-ups and the doctors noticed my kidney function was getting less and less, by testing levels of creatinine in my blood and proteins in my urine.
“My body was storing more and more water. At one point, I was carrying 20 kilos [about the weight of a five or six-year-old child]. It would pool in my feet when I stood up and when I lay down it would sink to my back. I couldn’t breathe because it settled around my chest. It was awful.”
But worse was to come.
She said: “The doctors knew it was happening and they tried me on different treatments to halt it. They were really on it. But they couldn’t do anything about it.”
Natalie was taken into the Wrexham Maelor hospital where she was put on emergency dialysis.
She said: “Normally dialysis patients will have a stent put in, which takes about a month to install. With me, they had to put it in an artery in my neck because there wasn’t time.
“I was very poorly. I wouldn’t have had more than a few weeks left.
“At the time, I couldn’t really process what was going on emotionally. It all happened so fast.”
As the machine started taking out her blood, cleaning it and stripping away excess liquid before pushing it back into her body, Natalie saw dramatic results.
She said: “It’s a really clever process. I could watch as the blood piped out and then back in. It was a bit unnerving, but it didn’t bother me too much. It was far better than the alternative.
“Some people feel really ill after it, but I didn’t. And one strange thing that happened was once they took the water away, I realised how skinny I was underneath it.”
Natalie underwent haemodialysis for four hours, three times a week, and praised Maelor staff for their “brilliant” care.
The treatment went on for four months, until she began peritoneal dialysis in January 2012.
She said: “It’s a lot gentler than haemodialysis. They pump a liquid into your peritoneal cavity, and by osmosis it takes away the toxins normally filtered out by the kidneys.
“It’s quite effective and you can do it at home and fit it around your life. You feel a bit more normal.”
Now she is on the list for a donor kidney.
Her mother was tested as a potential living donor, but was found to be unsuitable, but Natalie remains upbeat.
She said: “I’m back in Erddig now and working my hours up slowly.
“The condition has become part of my life. I know a lot of other people affected by kidney disease or kidney failure – maybe not to my level – but they are out there.
“They are a major organ. But kidney failure is not like breaking a leg. There’s so many different problems it can cause within the body, but sometimes you might not even be aware it was happening. My only real early symptom was the bloating.”
Natalie called on members of the public to support charities like Kidney Research UK, which provide funding for research. She said: “Just think what they could do if they had the money.”