Healthy Habits and Unsung Heroes: The Patterns and People That Keep Anthony Cartwright Strong in the Face of Kidney Disease

kidney patient
Though it may not be marked on everyone’s calendar, June is officially Men’s Health Month—an observance focused on raising awareness about men’s health issues and encouraging men and boys to live and eat healthier. Given that June is also the month we celebrate Father’s Day, it seems only fitting to share the story of dedicated husband, father, grandfather, motivational speaker, and fitness enthusiast Anthony Cartwright.

If you spotted Anthony walking down the street or lifting weights at the gym in his hometown of Rincon, Georgia, the word “grandpa” probably wouldn’t come to mind. At 50 years old, Anthony has a physique men half his age would take pride in. He also has 2 children, 2 grandchildren, and something else surprising—kidney disease.

Damage Control

In 2007, while serving in the military, Anthony’s back and knees were injured and a prescribed medication caused damage to his kidneys.

“One day my fellow servicemen and women were calling me Superman and the next I was being retired from the military because I was heading toward kidney failure,” Anthony remembers.

Anthony chose peritoneal dialysis (PD) because he wanted to do therapy at home. He continued working out to keep fit, both physically and mentally. “When I looked in the mirror, I saw someone very healthy; someone who wasn’t allowing dialysis to take over his life,” he says.

On PD, Anthony not only had the energy to keep himself in shape, but he was also a big source of support for his girls’ high school running team. He says his daughters—Rayne and Pricilla now in their mid-20s—don’t remember him as a dad on dialysis. Instead, they remember him handing out Gatorade and giving pep talks. “The team called me their cross country dad,” he says with a smile.

But in 2015, complications following a back surgery almost ended Anthony’s life and required a switch from PD to in-center dialysis. Anthony had a hard time adjusting to scheduled treatments at a dialysis center and says he didn’t feel like himself. His energy level dropped, which meant he couldn’t exercise like he usually did. He lost 70 pounds (in this case, a negative development) and had to quit his job.

Courage and Encouragement

On the brighter side, Anthony was never without support, receiving daily doses of encouragement from his family. Elizabeth, his wife of 27 years—whom Anthony describes as “an amazing woman”—kept him laughing with jokes like, “Don’t get an attitube!” (referring to his fistula). His daughters would sometimes skip outings with friends to make dinner and spend time with him. Rayne even chose to be home-schooled for a full year in order to help her dad.

Another bright spot, Anthony says, was Lauren, his favorite patient care technician at Fresenius Kidney Care Savannah.

“She always had a smile on her face and had a great relationship with everyone who came in,” recalls Anthony. “If you were in a bad mood, she would do her best to bring you out of that. She developed relationships with us and that’s so important. Because of that, I listened to what she said, and I valued her advice.”

Eventually, Anthony found the courage to try a different therapy, home hemodialysis (HHD), which meant overcoming his fear of needles. Ironically, his motivation came from meeting one of Rayne’s teammates on the sidelines of a cross country meet years earlier. The young runner had broken his back and was unable to walk, let alone race. Anthony shared his own story and told the teen, “You are a cross country runner! Not everyone can do what you do. Remember who you are. Don’t give up! Fight!”

“Three years later, at the grocery store, that same kid saw me at my lowest, and I must have looked like I was the one who needed the pep talk,” Anthony recalls. “He said, ‘Mr. Anthony, you’re going to be okay. Remember what you told me? Challenge yourself. You’re a soldier.’ At that moment I knew I had to change. I got over my fears and started doing HHD.”

Anthony says life after starting HHD was “amazing.” He started working and exercising again, was able to spend more time with family and friends, and felt more positive. Then, in July 2017, his dedication to self-care paid off in a big way. Due to his excellent health, he was cleared to receive a kidney transplant from his sister-in-law.

Toughness and Togetherness

“I’m a tough guy, but the day she told me she wanted to donate her kidney to me, tears ran down my face,” he says. “She got evaluated, did all the tests, and they said everything is good.”

Four years after his transplant, everything is great. Anthony feels as healthy as ever and does fitness training 6 days a week. Instead of giving pep talks on the sidelines, he is now a professional motivational speaker. In this role, he does presentations for groups of children and teens about being leaders in the community and overcoming adversity.

“My primary message to these kids is that it doesn’t matter where you come from or where you live. What matters is where you end up,” Anthony explains.

Anthony is also a patient advocate, using his public speaking skills to educate people with kidney disease about home dialysis. In this role, he often shares personal inspirations with his audience.

One such life lesson is drawn from years of experience lifting weights. “You have it in your head, ‘I’m getting 10 reps,’ and you push, push, push until you get it,” he explains. “You have to stay focused to get past certain things. That discipline carries over to doing dialysis. You have to be committed, whether it’s Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in-center or 5 days a week at home.”

Another of Anthony’s messages is inspired by the world of superheroes, and the Superman tattoo he got after his injury all those years ago.

“Superman is known for his strength, but Superman is also part of a group,” he says. “No matter how strong those superheroes are, they always band together for a common cause. That’s what we do in the dialysis community. We band together to fight the enemy, which is kidney failure, and that’s what we’re going to do. But without that team effort, we don’t have a chance.”

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