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Kidney specialist helps at-risk women through pregnancies

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After years of trying to have children, Dawn Lau and her husband, Troy Lau, are happy to finally be able to hold their sons, Ethan and baby Isaac.

He is the “go-to” doctor in the Ottawa area for treating pregnant women with kidney disease. And patients like Dawn Lau are grateful to Dr. Ayub Akbari for his supportive, attentive, responsive care that even includes handing out his personal phone number in case patients need to reach him.

“He even took the time to call me for an update on a Saturday afternoon once, which I thought was great care, and so kind,” said Lau, who was finally able to have children – two lovely boys.

A nephrologist who specializes in treating pregnant women with kidney disease, Dr. Akbari and RN Claude Baril are the nephrology pregnancy team at The Ottawa Hospital’s Riverside Campus. Baril, the primary contact for patients, is an expert in teaching patients to monitor their home blood pressure.

Lau has been a patient of Dr. Akbari’s for more than three years. After having a liver transplant, she had to take antirejection medication, which gave her high blood pressure and caused decreased kidney function. Lau struggled with fertility issues and, as a result, underwent five years of fertility treatments. During that time, she met with Dr. Akbari, who advised her about the risks she faced with pregnancy. Despite the risks, she decided it was worth it, and when she got pregnant she was thrilled.

Image Dr. Akbari and RN Claude Baril

Kidney specialists in the Ottawa area usually refer their pregnant patients, as well as those who want to get pregnant, to The Ottawa Hospital’s: Dr. Ayub Akbari (right) and RN Claude Baril.

“Since my pregnancy went well, I kept seeing him every few months because I knew I would want to try for another baby,” said Lau. Her next pregnancy went smoothly as well, although she had to be induced early because of high blood pressure, as with the birth of her first child. She and her husband, Troy Lau, now have two young boys, Ethan and Isaac.

Dr. Akbari’s interest in this field began when, as a primary care doctor, he and many colleagues didn’t know how to offer the specialized support needed by pregnant women with medical complications. At the University of Chicago, where he completed his nephrology fellowship, he was inspired to specialize in nephrology and pregnancy by his mentor, Dr. Marshall Lindhiemer, a world-wide kidney disease and pregnancy expert.

“I really liked it,” Dr. Akbari said. “The body of a woman changes completely during pregnancy, so what is normal for a non-pregnant woman might be abnormal in a pregnant woman, and vice versa. The whole physiology changes. It made me think I should specialize in this area. After that, I glued myself to Dr. Lindhiemer and did a year of studying pregnancy and kidney disease, and it has been my passion since then.”

As The Ottawa Hospital’s nephrology pregnancy team, Dr. Ayub Akbari (left), Administrative Assistant Anna Micucci, and RN Claude Baril support women through their high-risk pregnancies.

He said he enjoys the challenge of working with these unique patients.

“The majority of kidney disease patients are older, but these are young women. There’s a lot at stake. You’re caring for two patients – the baby as well as the mother,” he said. “A bad outcome is catastrophic.”

Pregnancy and kidney disease is a relatively uncommon combination. So, kidney specialists in the Ottawa area usually refer their pregnant patients, as well as those who want to get pregnant, to Dr. Akbari, who has seen patients from as far as Kingston.

He and Baril make a point of being very responsive, attentive and approachable to their patients, even giving them his personal phone number for reassurance. They build relationships with their patients, supporting their emotional needs as well as their physical.

“Any time I called, they were really quick to get back to me and answer any questions or help with the concerns I had,” said Lau, who has continued to see Dr. Akbari since the birth of baby Isaac in December 2017. “He always gave me options and took my emotions into account.”

“We are here for you and will do whatever we can to help you,” is Dr. Akbari’s message to women with kidney disease who want to get pregnant.

 
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