Lesley Garrett was travelling around northern England on the Leeds Opera North tour in 1980 when she felt herself getting progressively weaker. She suffered intermittent stomach pain in her right side and in the small of her back, as well as a couple bouts of cystitis.
“There was no sickness or vomiting, just terrible pain and backache.”
The morning after she collapsed following a performance at Hull’s Royal Theatre, her parents insisted she see a GP.
She continued: “When I saw my parents’ GP that morning he thought, from the abdominal pain, that I had appendicitis and told me to go straight to Doncaster Royal Infirmary. He was about to call an ambulance until I told him my dad was waiting for me in his car.
“Dad drove me to the hospital where casualty doctors gave me some intravenous antibiotics for the UTI.
“I signed a form to have the operation but then, a couple of hours later, just as I was about to go down to theatre, the pain began to ease – a sign that the antibiotics were working and, therefore, what I had was infection based – not appendicitis.”
Garrett continued: “A scan would have quickly discovered what was wrong with me, but this was 1980. They injected a dye into a vein which they then followed using X-rays, to see what was happening with my urine. They discovered that what they thought was an infected appendix was actually an infected right kidney.
“Except this particular kidney, apart from being pretty small and inefficient, was in completely the wrong place. It was eight inches lower than it should have been, squashed between my uterus and appendix.
“Because it was a lot smaller, and efficient than a normal kidney processing urine, it was prone to infection. Right now, it was very inflamed and infected, which is why I’d been in such pain.”
Tests also showed compared to her right kidney the left one was significantly bigger, having grown larger to compensate for the weaker one.
Garrett was told her kidneys must have moved around when she was in the womb and there were three reasons for having a small kidney – they just never grew, the smaller kidney could have been damaged by infection, or its growth was stunted by a narrow artery which carries the blood supply.
She added: “I was in hospital for two weeks, taking large doses of antibiotics to reduce the infection. It worked, and I was pleased to finally learn what had been causing me so much pain.”
Garrett refers to her kidney problem as “pelvic kidney”.
Pelvic kidney is also referred to as ectopic kidney.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases explains: “An ectopic kidney is a kidney located below, above, or on the opposite side of the kidney’s normal position in the urinary tract. The two kidneys are usually located near the middle of your back, just below your rib cage, on either side of your spine.
“An ectopic kidney usually doesn’t cause any symptoms or health problems, and many people never find out that they have the condition. If an ectopic kidney is discovered, it is usually found during a fetal ultrasound—an imaging test that uses sound waves to create a picture of how a baby is developing in the womb—or during medical tests done to check for a urinary tract infection or to find the cause of abdominal pain. Rarely does a person have two ectopic kidneys.
“In the womb, a foetus’s kidneys first develop as small buds in the lower abdomen inside the pelvis. During the first 8 weeks of growth, the foetus’s kidneys slowly move from the pelvis to their normal position in the back near the rib cage.”
When an ectopic kidney occurs during growth, the kidney:
- stays in the pelvis near the bladder
- stops moving up too early and stays in the lower abdomen
- moves too high up in the abdomen
- crosses over the centre of the body and often grows into, or joins, the other kidney, with both kidneys on the same side of the body
Most people with an ectopic kidney have no symptoms. But if you experience the following, speak to a GP:
- pain in your abdomen or back
- urinary frequency or urgency, or burning during urination
- hematuria, or blood in the urine
- lump or mass in the abdomen
- high blood pressure