Digging Deep for a Better Life

At 60 years old Ken McGee had some new goals for himself. Expanding the size of his garden, continuing to shrink his waistline, and, hopefully, receiving a new kidney.

Not so many years ago, Ken weighed more than 350 pounds and his diet was, at least partially, to blame. He knew he had kidney disease but a steady intake of meats and carbohydrates wasn’t making things any easier on his condition.

“My doctors told me ‘It’s not if you lose your kidney, it’s when,’” Ken recalls.

A Season of Change

“When” came in 2014. A union pipe fitter and welder, Ken started feeling sick and had to leave a successful job, and a career 38 years in the making, so he could start dialysis. He spent a few months receiving in-center treatments at Fresenius Kidney Care in Donaldsville, Louisiana, and then—with help from his care team—began to make some changes. The first was a conscious effort to lose weight. The second was to start training for home dialysis therapy.

Ken decided on home hemodialysis (HHD) because it was more agreeable with his schedule, and he had an attentive care partner in his wife, Susan.

“I trained with my wife for about six weeks, and have been doing home ever since,” he says. “She does my sticks and has been a big help. She’s always been by my side taking care of me.”

After moving to home therapy, Ken felt well enough to return to his job, but a year of juggling 10 hour shifts and dialysis treatments proved to be too much. He went on disability and set to work improving his health. He also started working something else—the soil.

Fresh Food, Fresh Start

“I always liked gardening; we had citrus trees, a fig tree, and a grape vine in the yard,” explains Ken. “But once I went on disability, I figured I could do better. I told my wife ’l’ve got to do something.”

So, he went big. After watching YouTube videos, Ken set up six large containers and began cultivating herbs, tomatoes, and squash. Then he decided to have spring and fall gardens and added collard greens, tomatoes, lettuce, and green onions. Olive and avocado trees came next.

Within a year Ken doubled the size of his garden, and as the landscape changed, so did his diet. He began eating more fresh food and making kidney-healthy dishes using the harvest from his back yard.

“Instead of making a hamburger or going out to eat I’ll eat a cucumber with salt and pepper or a tomato for lunch,” he says.

Delicacies from the McGee kitchen include tomato soup with fresh herbs, a homemade Cajun spice mix, as well as jams and jellies. Ken shared his bounty with local food banks, his nurse, and his dietician, who were impressed by his creations. But what really made them happy was seeing his health and lifestyle improvements.

A New Goal, A Second Chance

“I had to be below 275 pounds to be considered for the transplant list,” Ken told us. “I started at 375 dropped down to 260. I felt so much better.”

Beyond feeling good and doing good things, Ken’s ultimate objective was a kidney transplant. With his weight below the threshold, the next hurdle was finding a matching donor. Fortunately, it didn’t take long, because there was a willing, able, and excellent candidate in his own family.

In September 2019, Ken’s sister gave him the ultimate gift—a new kidney. Ken says she gave him “a second chance at life.”


We want to hear from you if you’re living with kidney disease and thriving—or if you’re caring for someone who is. Your experience can help inspire and empower others.


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