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Nurse follows mom’s advice: ‘Never give up’

Joshua Patton, 35, was diagnosed at age 6 with end-stage renal disease, which means he has spent a lot of time undergoing dialysis between kidney transplants. Five years ago, he was licensed as a nurse, and this year he began working in the same dialysis clinic where he is treated. He’s pictured here after just obtaining his nursing license.

Before he chose nursing as his career, Joshua Patton considered the priesthood and acting. Here he is, smiling right, playing a bully in the pilot for “Breaking Bad.”

Look at Joshua Patton and you see a healthy man who appears younger than his stated age of 35, and as strapping as you might expect of someone who works out at the gym three times a week and works with dialysis patients as an acute care nephrology nurse.

What you might not see is that he’s a dialysis patient, too.

But he’s more than willing to let you see that side of him, too – especially if you’re one of his patients.

“Any time a patient is diagnosed with kidney disease that requires dialysis, people think it’s a death sentence and that you can’t go on,” Patton said. “But it’s not a death sentence. I let them know that, yes, get used to feeling like crap sometimes, but you can still do just about everything you want in life.”

Joshua Patton, left, and Michael Patton are identical twins, but a notable difference in their size when they were children led to the discovery of Joshua’s kidney disease. (Courtesy of Joshua Patton)

Patton’s life was nearly over before it got very far. At age 6, he was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease. It was his mother’s tenacity in seeking answers as to why her identical twin boys were growing in ways that weren’t identical that likely saved him.

“I was almost a foot shorter than my brother, and my mother kept taking me to specialists to find out why,” Patton said. “They kept blowing her off, but my mother was not one to give up so easily.”

She also taught her son not to give up easily.

“My mother always taught me, ‘Someone is always sicker than you,’ ” he said. “Never accept the word ‘no.’ Fight against all the odds. Never give up.”

Neither of them did.

Patton’s mother insisted that he live a life as normal as possible, though while other students were having lunch or sleeping soundly at night, he was undergoing peritoneal dialysis, a near-constant process that filters out the body’s impurities by flushing it with fluid through the abdominal lining.

Later, he began spending three afternoons a week at the hospital undergoing hemodialysis, in which his blood is circulated through a machine to filter out impurities.

Still, he participated in most of the same activities and sports as his twin brother, Michael. Both boys became good enough in karate that in 1995 they competed at the Goodwill Games in Queensland, Australia.

(Both brothers have since earned black belts in karate, he said.)

On his 15th birthday, he underwent a kidney transplant. Life went on. After high school, he entered the Catholic seminary, but left after about seven years.

He tried his hand at acting, landing a small role as a bully in a clothing store in the pilot of “Breaking Bad” in 2008 and serving as a stand-in during the first season for Aaron Paul, who played Jesse Pinkman.

The money wasn’t good, he said, and it wasn’t a career that he said did enough good for others.

But a career in the medical field could. He became an anesthesia tech, then went back to school to become an anesthesia nurse.

“I figured I had spent so much time in hospitals that I might as well work in one,” he said. “It was a way for me to help others.”

But last November, he was the one who needed help. After 20 years, his donor kidney began to fail, and he was forced again to undergo regular hemodialysis, three times a week, up to five hours each time.

Once again, he hung on to his mother’s words: “Never accept the word ‘no.’ Fight against all the odds. Never give up.”

So he kept going.

“I really push myself,” he said. “I might be tired after dialysis. Many people are. But I make myself go to the gym. I guess I’m kind of stubborn.”

He also began pursuing a master’s degree in health care administration through online classes and is now just two classes away from that goal.

That drive and optimism was noticed by the Fresenius Kidney Care dialysis manager, who offered him a job at the company’s location at Presbyterian Hospital downtown.

“He said something about how I was always there, anyway, so I might as well work,” Patton said. “To be quite honest, I thought it was a joke.”

In February, he took the job.

“When I meet with new patients, I tell them my story,” he said. “They appreciate it, I think. It puts them at ease. It’s nice to hear from someone who knows both sides. Because they know I know that it can be OK.”

Patton said he is hopeful that, in a few months, things will look even more than OK for him. His twin brother is undergoing the process of determining whether he can donate one of his kidneys to him. If all goes well, Patton could undergo his second kidney transplant by the end of this year or early next year.

Should there be complications, Patton said he will continue to do what his mother taught him, what he hopes his patients and others who hear his story will learn:

“Never accept the word ‘no.’ Fight against all the odds. Never give up.”

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793,, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.


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