‘I had no idea it was kidney disease’: D.B. Marshall’s Journey to Diagnosis
From a young age, Dammeon Bernard (or D.B., as many affectionately call him) didn’t let difficult situations define him or the trajectory of his life.
It took D.B. several years to realize just how poor his family actually was. With laser-focused determination, he helped his mother and grandmother raise his three younger siblings and eventually moved them all from Florida to Atlanta, seeking a fresh start.
A family-man to his core, D.B. finally started to take time for himself later in his life, specifically focusing on his education. One degree at a time, he slowly climbed his way up to the doctorate program at Virginia Commonwealth University.
D.B. was in near-perfect health and intensely dedicated to his studies, so it was hard to imagine anything breaking his stride — until one unfortunate day.
“I was on my way to the gym at 7 o’clock in the morning. I’ll never forget… I was walking on the sidewalk… and out of nowhere, I collapsed,” D.B. recalled.
“You see stuff like that happen in the movies, so when it happened to me, I was like ‘What just really happened?’” he mused.
After slowly coming to, he brushed himself off and decided to get his work out in before heading to the emergency room.
There, they ran blood work, but ultimately said there were no underlying issues, citing stress as the reason D.B. fainted.
“But I knew something else was going on, because I’m very in tune with my body,” the doctorate student said.
This cloudy confusion loomed over D.B., making it impossible for him to process the material he was learning in his classes. A typical straight A student, he was now failing his courses, even after he set up time to get extra help after class.
During all this, D.B. went to the emergency room three more times — just to keep getting sent home. Trusting his gut, he saw one of his specialists who, after more blood work, found elevated creatinine levels. He advised D.B. to see a kidney doctor, called a nephrologist.
D.B. sought out a nephrologist, who later ordered a biopsy. The procedure confirmed that not only did D.B. have kidney disease, but he had a rare and chronic kidney disease: focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS).
“I’m a solution-focused individual, so at the time I was like ‘Okay, so what do I need to do? How do I fix it?’ And that’s when [the nephrologist] told me it was irreversible,” D.B. said, tears welling up in his eyes. “He said, ‘Once you’re diagnosed with kidney disease, all we can do is stabilize it and manage it.’”
The emotional toll the diagnosis took on D.B. nearly matched the physical effects. His anxiety of the unknown was overwhelming.
“It bothered me so much, because I was one of those individuals that always tried to do the right thing. I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I wasn’t one that ran the streets… Why do I have this disease?” he questioned.
D.B.’s treatment plan started with a steroid called Prednisone. He took 60 mg of the drug per day for roughly six months, and the side effects were substantial.
“It had me so wired,” D.B. said, adding he’d plant flowers, pull weeds, cut the grass, and water the lawn at 2 a.m. because he only slept between two and four hours every night.
In addition to this new-found energy, the Prednisone also elevated his A1C levels, causing him to become pre-diabetic. The cons of this treatment far outweighed the benefits, so doctors decided to ween him off the drug.
At the time of his initial FSGS diagnosis in 2012, D.B. was also experiencing hypertension, high cholesterol, anemia and low vitamin D. After consulting with several other nephrologists, including a holistic kidney doctor, D.B. was able to create a diet plan that helped manage his kidney disease and get rid of the other issues he dealt with.
D.B. has managed to stay at Stage 3 kidney disease for the past nine years, crediting his diet of fruit and veggie shakes and a more traditional meal at dinner for helping him do so.
His support system remains strong. He makes it a priority to gather his extended family annually to update them all on his kidney health. It’s important to him to spread awareness for kidney disease and be an advocate for others.
“Often times, I think we give doctors way too much control and we follow their recommendations without questioning. And there’s nothing wrong with questioning your doctors if you have questions,” D.B. advises. “Always walk in there prepared and let them know what you want, what you want to try, and is this helpful.”
In addition to helping others through advocacy, D.B. also encourages everyone to stay on top of annual checkups to catch potential issues early on or before they even happen.
“Often times, when you go to the doctor, they do screenings. They ask you a series of questions to determine if you have kidney disease. I tell people all the time ‘No! Ask them for a renal panel.’ Run my renal panel: I am Black, I am African American, kidney disease runs rapid in our community. I need to know exactly what my creatinine level is,” he said.