Man credits square dancing with helping manage kidney disease

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

 

Elmer and Betty Toops danced their first square dance in 1980. In the 32 years that have followed, nothing's stopped their dancing.

Their two children, now adults, took dance lessons. Weekends concluded with Sunday evening dances. Family vacations included square-dance festivals.

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Not even Elmer's end-stage renal disease diagnosis two years ago has been able to stop the dancing duo. In fact, Betty believes the dancing is what keeps Elmer healthy after nearly four decades with a disease that has slowly destroyed his kidneys.

"That's what keeps him going," she said. "I truly believe it was the square dancing and the physical exercise. That's why his kidney function went as long as it did."

Elmer was 35 years old when routine blood work revealed he had Berger's disease.

Berger's disease develops when an antibody lodges in the kidneys, hampering their ability to filter waste, water and electrolytes from the blood. Over time, it can lead to blood and protein in one's urine, high blood pressure, and swollen hands and feet, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Berger's disease usually progresses slowly over many years, and, for some, leads to end-stage renal (or kidney) disease, according to Mayo Clinic.

That's ultimately what happened to Elmer, who turned 74 last month.

His kidney function continued to decline until it reached about 10 percent in September 2010. That's when he started dialysis.

Even with three, four-hour dialysis treatments a week, the Camas couple has kept their dancing routine.

They participate in their club dances twice a month during the fall and winter, and they help teach new dancers the techniques of square dancing. In the summer, they travel to square dance festivals and visit other clubs for dances. For the out-of-town trips, Elmer coordinates with dialysis centers in the area to receive treatment.

In the last few years, as the disease progressed, Elmer has limited the number of dances he does each night. But he's determined to stick to square dancing despite the diagnosis.

"Other than bad kidneys, there's nothing wrong with me," he said.

Besides dialysis, the only other treatment option for renal failure is a kidney transplant. In November 2011, Elmer was added to the transplant list at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland -- an opportunity people his age aren't normally afforded. Elmer credits his good health.

Kendra Weakley, a registered dietitian at Elmer's dialysis provider, Fresenius Medical Care in Vancouver, said exercise and diet are important for dialysis patients.

People on dialysis get the same benefits from exercise that others do. But the benefits of managed body weight and blood pressure are of particular importance for dialysis patients, she said. Good health helps prevent further complications and keeps dialysis patients out of the hospital, Weakley said.

Fresenius Medical Care recently honored Elmer as a "Champion in Motion," a national award given to 20 people who demonstrate a commitment to physical fitness and living well, despite chronic kidney disease.

"I'm not done living yet," Elmer said. "I want to keep going."

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.