My Body, My Life: How A Kidney Transplant Got Me Back On The Dance Floor

By Grace Clackson
Guest Contributor

In recent years, exercise was not on my radar.  Like many others, I was busy balancing work and family. Honestly, I thought regular gym dates were only for overweight people.  It wasn't always this way — I loved dancing growing up but just couldn't make room for it in my adult life.

But all of that changed in 2010.

I found myself more and more fatigued and around the same time my mother died from polycystic kidney disease (PKD), I learned I too had inherited the genetic kidney disorder. Most people with PKD, a chronic kidney disease where clusters of cysts develop primarily within the kidneys, get the disease between their 50's and 60's.

I was on the verge of kidney failure at 44 years of age.

Eventually doctors told me that the only cure was dialysis or a kidney transplant. At this point I had three young children and the news was debilitating. But we quickly gathered up some courage to ask for help. My brother was not a fit since he too had PKD; my husband had a different blood type. I went to the Internet to ask for a kidney. Our community rallied and my nephew-in-law was generous enough to go through a battery of tests that revealed a nearly perfect blood match.

On February 28, 2011, I had a successful kidney transplant in my native Philippines. As soon as my anesthesia wore off, I felt a light turn on--the extreme fatigue was gone. My donor and I recovered quickly and we were back on our feet within a month after surgery. Four months later, the honeymoon was over and I was back in the hospital with an mysterious infection. Many feared the worst, suspecting post-transplant lymphoma, but it turned out to be an infection caused by natural bacteria in the gut.

All of this resulted in major weight loss. I felt very weak and for the first time in my whole life, I was told to see a nutritionist so that I could gain weight efficiently. Soon, I started working out twice a week with a personal trainer. Within three months, I started feeling great, seeing changes in my body, and gaining strength. Eventually, I stopped working with a trainer and started my own daily exercise regimen. I combined weight conditioning on my own and attended group exercise classes, trying everything from pilates to yoga, bootcamp to cardio dance.

(Courtesy of Grace Clackson)
(Courtesy of Grace Clackson)

In my first year of exercising regularly, I discovered that fitness is essential to my everyday life. It kept me sane, happy and made me a better person to everyone. As life returned to normal, I made the decision not to return to work and instead focus on my family. I started attending dance classes again and began to learn Latin ballroom dances. I enjoyed ballroom dancing so much that I participated in local Pro-Am competitions. While doing this, I discovered that my normal exercise regimen wasn't good enough--I needed to train like dancers do. I discovered “barre” conditioning classes and fell in love. This type of workout combines all the elements of exercise that I love and need for ballroom dancing- free weights, dance-based movements, core-focused exercises and stretching. I felt stronger and had the endurance to be in competition the whole day.

This experience--the transplant, the recovery, the exercise-fueled empowerment, led to my desire to help other women feel the same way. This year I started training to be a group fitness instructor and decided to open my own studio. I truly believe that no one should have to go through a life crisis to discover that exercise should be part of their life.


More from WBUR

Listen Live