71-Year-Old Sue Zupinski Shares How PD and Living Well Keep Her Thriving

After losing her spouse in 2016, Sue Zupinski came to the realization that she was not a healthy person. Over the years, she and her late husband had started eating out multiple nights a week—which meant large portions, fatty foods, and hardly a veggie in sight. Overweight and getting older, Sue knew it was time for a change.

Years later, Sue is a vibrant example of how positive habits, relationships, and mindsets contribute to healthy aging—even when complicated by chronic kidney disease (CKD) and dialysis.

Food for Thought: A Change in Diet

“I have granddaughters that I want to see grow up, and I couldn’t keep up with them,” Sue remembers. “I mean, it was hard to move around. I decided that to live better and be able to enjoy my family, I needed to make a decision—and it had to be a drastic one.”

Sue had tried several diet programs and supplements, but nothing had lasting effects. In 2017, her primary care physician suggested she see a nutritionist, and it was literally just what the doctor ordered.

The nutritionist taught Sue how to make (and order) healthier meals and portions, and before long she had lost 80 pounds. As it turned out, her shift in lifestyle prepared Sue for another dramatic change.

A Perfect Fit: Peritoneal Dialysis

In 2018 doctors told Sue she would need to start dialysis. It wasn’t entirely surprising, as years earlier she’d been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (cysts on her kidneys) and knew there would be complications. But being prepared didn’t make the news any easier to hear—she was disheartened and very scared.

Determined to keep living her best life, Sue explored her options. “I went and talked with the nurses and decided to do peritoneal dialysis (PD),” she recalls. “For my lifestyle, that was the best thing. I could do therapy at home, on my own schedule, which was more appealing to me than going to the dialysis center.”

Sue had a PD catheter implanted, and after a few weeks of peritoneal dialysis training, was doing treatments at home. She says doing therapy at night keeps her days free for other activities—such as playing piano, volunteering at her church, and singing with a seniors’ choir. 

“PD just fits in so perfectly in my life. I can go to sleep while the machine does the work,” she says. “I can do what I want during the day, and I don’t have to worry about a treatment schedule getting in the way. I love it.”

Sue stays on top of her health with the help of her care team at Fresenius Kidney Care Dupage in Elmhurst, Illinois.

“They are just amazing,” she says. “I can call anytime I have a question and get my nurse on the phone. Jennifer, my dietician, checks in with me about my labs every month. She’ll say, ‘Okay, so your phosphorus levels are low,’ or ‘Your protein is a little high. We need to do something about this.’”

Words and Walks: For Mind, Body, and Soul

Living on her own, Sue recognizes the importance of keeping her mind sharp and staying engaged with friends and family. Each day she opens her copy of the Chicago Sun-Times and does crossword and sudoku puzzles. She is also an avid reader and enjoys fantasy novels and books about World War II. 

“Your mind is a muscle, and if you don’t exercise that muscle, it becomes stagnant,” Sue notes. “That’s one of the reasons I like the puzzles. They really stimulate my mind.”

Sue also gets together often with her sister and daughter and takes regular walks around her neighborhood with her two school-age granddaughters, who live just down the road.

“They are just the love of my life,” she says. “They brighten my day.”

A Positive Position: Encouragement for Herself and Others with CKD

Being physically, mentally, and socially active has kept Sue’s brain and body strong. She says these things also help keep her going when the routines of therapy start to wear her down.

Kidney disease is not fun,” she says. “You know, at the end of the day, there are times when I’d like to just crawl into bed. But I can’t. I have to get myself hooked up and get the machine set up and everything. If I don't stay active, I might not have the incentive. Even on the days that aren’t so great, I get up and say, ‘Thank you, Lord, for waking me up today.”’

Grateful for every moment, Sue decided not long ago that she would share her story and experiences as a patient advocate in the kidney community. She often visits with people in the same position she found herself after learning her kidneys had failed—they are frightened, uncertain, and in need of reassurance.

“One thing I want them to know is that they don't need to be afraid of doing dialysis on their own,” she says. “I am not computer savvy at all—if I have issues with my phone, I call my granddaughter. And yet I have managed to do this. If you want quality of life, you accept this and learn to do it. I think almost anyone can.”

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