Gloria Stephens had been told she might never walk, drive or live alone again after a sudden diagnosis of end stage renal disease. After much perseverance and encouragement from her grandniece to get up and dance, Gloria found a way to continue doing the things she loved. This 69-year-old resident of Jacksonville, Florida has now published her first book, “Auntie Glo and the Dancing Machine,” with the hope of inspiring others living with chronic kidney disease.
Twenty-five years ago, Gloria had been focused on her career, traveling and looking after others, which left little time to care for herself. Her first warning came with a diabetes diagnosis. It was a wakeup call to manage her weight and take better care of her health.
When nothing seemed to work to improve her health, she suspected she had another condition. She consulted her primary care physician who blamed depression. By the time she switched physicians, Gloria was retaining so much fluid in her legs, she struggled to walk and became prone to falling.
Gloria knew she had an emergency on her hands. She went to the hospital, where she finally got the answers to her health questions. Her kidneys had failed; Gloria needed immediate dialysis to keep her alive.
This is why kidney disease is often called a “silent killer” – a person can lose up to 90 percent of their kidney function and not even know it. She also faced hypertension, diabetes and asthma. Doctors told Gloria she might not ever walk again and considered amputating her legs.
“Telling me that I can’t do something is fire in my blood,” Gloria said. “I knew right then and there that I was going to be able to do all of these activities again.”
Feeling physically and emotionally drained, but hopeful and determined, Gloria began regular dialysis at Fresenius Kidney Care North Jacksonville.
“I was overwhelmed by how wonderful the staff was and how they treated me,” Gloria said. “I felt helpless but they gave me so much love and support. Just thinking about it brings me to tears.”
Gloria’s physical therapist came to her house multiple times a week where she was also often visited by her then four-year-old grandniece, Kyndahl. Kyndahl watched Gloria struggle to do the exercises given to her by the physical therapist and took on the challenge to get her great aunt up and moving again.
“Kyndahl loves to dance, and when the physical therapist left, she would make me get up and dance with her,” Gloria said. “Kyndahl is the reason I can walk, live alone and drive today. She inspired me to put on my dancing shoes and live life to the fullest.”
“Auntie Glo, as we call her, is truly an inspiration,” said Ruth Mills, RD, LD, CSR, Fresenius Kidney Care North Jacksonville renal dietitian. “She doesn’t let anyone tell her ‘no’ or ‘she can’t,’ which personally resonates with me.”
“A child can remind you how beautiful life can be,” Gloria said. “Through this book, I want to inspire others with health challenges and remind them that young people can influence their elders just as much as they can influence youth.”
Gloria’s book, first published in December 2017, is available for purchase online. You can also watch the video of Gloria dancing with her grandniece and sharing how she thrives on dialysis by living her life to the fullest each and every day.