Urology Expertise Saves College Athlete’s Kidney

Kali Grayson

January 11, 2022

Throwing javelin at the collegiate level requires going the distance. But searing abdominal pain stopped Kali Grayson from doing that during a prominent National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) track and field competition in spring 2021.

It wasn’t the first time such agony had hindered the young Long Branch, New Jersey, woman. Horrible pain months earlier led to a diagnosis of ureteropelvic junction obstruction, a blockage in the ureter—the tube carrying urine from kidneys to the bladder—attached to Kali’s left kidney. Feeling pressed for time, Kali opted only for pain medication to carry on with her busy schedule of classes and athletic meets at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

But the pain’s comeback brought Kali to Jersey Shore University Medical Center, where urological expertise and patience helped her kidney recover from a damaging buildup of pressure and ultimately saved the organ. 

“We gave Kali immediate pain relief and protected her kidney,” says urologist Mark Perlmutter, M.D. “Many times, other hospitals will tell such patients their kidney doesn’t function and will need to be removed. But rather than make that assumption, we were able to spare her kidney, which is obviously fantastic for the rest of her life.”

Measured Approach

After calming Kali’s pain, Dr. Perlmutter performed imaging tests to confirm her diagnosis. A nuclear kidney scan, which shows what kidneys and nearby structures look like and how well they work—indicated her left kidney was functioning very poorly, at only 6 percent efficiency. While not common, Kali’s kidney condition was traceable to genetics. Her mother, Patti, had undergone numerous treatments years earlier to address the same problem.

With her mother’s experience to guide her, Kali underwent a short-term surgical fix to insert a nephrostomy tube, draining urine from the kidney into a bag outside the body. Feeling much better within weeks, she needed convincing from Dr. Perlmutter to retest her kidney function before preemptively removing the organ.

“I was really emotionally drained and wanted it all to be over, but Dr. Perlmutter wanted to offer the option of saving the kidney, if possible,” Kali recalls. “He really took the time to explain what was happening to me.”

Clear Benefits

Kali’s repeat kidney scan showed her left kidney function had dramatically rebounded to 31 percent, far past the threshold for keeping the organ. Dr. Perlmutter performed a robotic pyeloplasty, minimally invasive surgery cutting out the ureter blockage and restoring healthy kidney drainage.  

“This is one of those surgeries that offers a clear benefit and a long-lasting, satisfying result,” he says. “We don’t expect Kali to have any future issues.”

For Kali, now 21 and minoring in public health, the diligent care she received “reignited my love of the medical field.”

“I felt my nurses and doctors cared about me as an individual and heard me when I had worries,” she says. “It reminded me of what I want to do with my life.”

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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