North Seattle resident deals with kidney disease with persistence and optimism

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Julia Sterkovsky at home in the garden
By Steve Winter and Cynthia Flash

Julia Sterkovsky has spent 25 years advocating for equity and fairness for people in Seattle and King County through the Seattle Human Services Coalition. It’s a challenging job that has kept her deeply engaged in local communities. 

All the while, the North Seattle resident also had to deal with kidney disease. 

Although she received a donor kidney in 2001, it has since decreased function and she now also has to do dialysis treatments to clean the waste and water from her blood because her kidneys can no longer fully perform that function.

In her job, Sterkovsky champions fundamental causes of bringing resources and support to undeserved communities, including early childhood education, youth development, food, shelter, and housing, community healthcare, services for seniors, advocacy, as well as domestic violence and sexual assault response and prevention. 

Although kidney disease adds more pressure to life, she said, “the choice of how to deal with it is yours. If you want to live, these are your choices.”

March is National Kidney Month, a time to focus on kidney disease and its causes. Sterkovsky hopes that her story helps educate others that they have options for living well with kidney disease, which affects one in 10 American adults. 

Risks include diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, smoking, and family history of kidney disease. Those who are African American, Asian American or Native American, people who are overweight, and those over age 60 are at higher risk for developing kidney disease.

Sterkovsky is one of small percentage of people with kidney disease who can’t point to a specific cause for her disease. However, her mother had nearly the same experience at the same early age, so an unknown genetic cause is the obvious suspect. Her mother received dialysis treatments at home in Ohio in the 1970s.

Brian and Julia Sterkovsky
While some dialysis patients receive treatments in a clinic, Sterkovsky has chosen to do peritoneal dialysis, which can be done at home or work– usually with the help of a partner. 

Sterkovsky is lucky to have her husband Brian to help with the logistics of her care.

Sterkovsky learned how to give herself dialysis treatments at Northwest Kidney Centers, a nonprofit dialysis provider that serves 2,000 patients a year in 19 dialysis centers and eight hospitals in the Puget Sound region, including the Lake City clinic in Lake Forest Park

She said the ins-and-outs of learning how to give herself dialysis treatments reminded her of learning to drive. 

She recalled “being in driver’s education class with all sorts of new information being thrown at you, and then actually driving with so many things to track on the road and on the dashboard. And then a week later it seems like you can remember to do all of those things pretty easily. It becomes second nature.”

Sterkovsky is ready to receive another transplanted kidney. She has been on the waitlist for more than four years; she waited two years the first time in 2001. The average wait time for a kidney transplant is three to five years.

True to form, she is persistent and optimistic. 

In fact, Sterkovsky has thought of a way to address the long wait periods for donor organs. Her idea could be accomplished with a simple change on driver’s license applications. The change would require people to opt out of being an organ donor rather than having to opt in. 

While families would still retain the final say regarding organ donations, this fundamental change could profoundly impact the large number of people waiting for donated kidneys as well as those in need of other organs. More than 90% of people waiting for organ transplants are waiting for kidneys.

Whether one is a patient, a donor, or neither, everyone can take steps to improve their kidney health. Tips include:
  • Following prescribed treatments to control diabetes and/or high blood pressure.
  • Eating a kidney-friendly diet (low or no salt). Look here for a kidney-friendly diet and recipes or attend an Eating Well, Living Well class to learn how to eat a kidney-healthy diet. See classes at
  • Staying active through exercise that is enjoyable.
  • Avoiding overuse of over-the-counter pain medicines or prescription medicines.
Learn more about kidney disease at


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