Lewis family

Kriste and her family at the New Orleans Walk for PKD.

It was always on Kriste Lewis’s bucket list to try out to be an NFL cheerleader. As she approached her 40th birthday, she decided to give herself a gift and fulfill a lifetime dream by trying out to be a New Orleans Saintsation. Kriste made the team in 2014, competing against women mostly ages 18 to 28. And in April of this year, Kriste made the team for the third year in a row!

Kriste is one of only two NFL cheerleaders in her 40s. Her age isn’t the only thing that sets her apart. Kriste has PKD. And it has been a big part of her motivation.

“Having PKD had a lot to do with me auditioning,” Kriste said. “I didn’t want to waste a day. I don’t want to let any time go.”

Kriste was diagnosed 15 years ago while pregnant with her first son, Jake, during a routine ultrasound. The ultrasound tech got really quiet and asked if she had kidney problems in her family.

“At this time, I knew my mom and twin uncles had PKD,” Kriste said. “I knew immediately what it was. I had PKD too.” At the time, she didn’t worry, thinking it wouldn’t affect her until her 50s, and she was only 26. “I tried not to worry about it. I thought I had time and was more focused on having a baby,” she said. “I didn’t follow up with a doctor about it at all.”

Three years later, after having her second son, Rob, she had issues with kidney stones that put her in the ER. Her interaction with the ER doctor was a wake-up call and he said she needed to see a nephrologist. Kriste went to see a general practitioner, who told her that her kidneys weren’t an issue yet, and with no treatment or a cure, there was nothing he could do.

“I didn’t stop there,” she said. “My mom was on dialysis at the time, so I went straight to a nephrologist. I knew that was the right move with my family history.”

Her nephrologist visit was successful, and Kriste has been taking blood pressure medication for the last 10 years. Around the same time, Kriste’s mom had a transplant.

“That had a huge impact on me,” Kriste said. “I was holding my two babies watching my mom lay in a hospital bed, and thinking about how I could lose her. Or be next. Or that my children could have it as well. At this time, I knew my mom and twin uncles had PKD. I knew immediately what it was. I had PKD too.”

This was a turning point for Kriste. “I knew I wanted to be strong. So if it was my turn to receive a transplant, I wanted my body to be the best shape it could be. My body already fights my kidneys every day, it shouldn’t have to fight me too. I wanted to give my body the tools it needs to be as healthy as possible.”

Kriste Lewis and Mike Haggard

Kriste with former Board of Trustees member, Mike Haggard, who organized Kidney Casino for a Cure with his wife, Bekki, and sister Becky McCarron.

Having trouble getting the weight off after her second child, Kriste started slow with a Yoga DVD while her children napped. As they got older, she joined exercise classes and made more of a commitment to physical fitness, working as a fitness instructor the past few years.

“I had been a teacher, then a stay-at-home mom and was now a fitness instructor,” Kriste said. Kriste strongly encourages PKD patients to take the best care of themselves they can.

“Even though I am 10 years older than when I first visited a nephrologist, my blood pressure and creatinine numbers have improved,” Kriste said. “My lifestyle and commitment to health matter. I encourage everyone, make a change and live your healthiest life. Exercise doesn’t have to be torture. Don’t give kidney disease a leg up!”

Once Kriste made the team, she immediately garnered national recognition. With appearances on Good Morning America, ESPN, The Doctors, and The Steve Harvey Show, Kriste has helped to raise national awareness of PKD. Kriste also attends local events to support the Foundation.

“I honestly had no idea that anyone would be interested in my story, but just being able to share about PKD with people, I think has really been a blessing for me,” Kriste said. “I encourage others to take what they are given and give back. People come up to me at games and tell me they are a kidney donor or their mom is on dialysis, and being able to relate and connect with them is magical. Find your blessing in an unusual place and give back!”