Tidewater Kidney Specialists, Inc.
For 20 years, Dr. Steven Lewinski’s job has boiled down to one vital goal: protecting his patients’ precious kidneys for as long as possible. The difference is that today, he has many more weapons at his disposal.
Patients with vasculitis are no longer inevitably placed on steroids, for example, thanks to new medications without side effects such as weight gain, skin changes and an increased risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. Patients with high blood pressure can take advantage of a variety of effective, once-daily drugs. Those on hemodialysis can benefit from improved vascular access techniques.
“This field has come such a long way,” Dr. Lewinski says. “While it is very difficult to replicate everything a healthy kidney does, we have a much better repertoire of treatments to try.”
Since 2012, Dr. Lewinski has been President of Tidewater Kidney Specialists, or TKS, a major provider of comprehensive nephrology services in Hampton Roads. He is affiliated with all Sentara and Obici hospitals in Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Suffolk, as well as Chesapeake Regional Medical Center; he served as President of Chesapeake Regional’s medical staff from 2016 to 2017.
Practicing nephrology is a joy for Dr. Lewinski, a Buffalo, NY, native who decided on a career in medicine very early in life. As in, when he was kindergarten.
“I never considered anything else,” he recalls. “My mom was a nurse, and our family doctor was a grandfatherly, Marcus Welby-type of man. He was always there when you needed him. He had an office in his home, and I remember that he came to my house when my brother had scarlet fever. I thought, ‘I want to help people like he does.’”
After earning his undergraduate degree at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Dr. Lewinski completed a master’s in Natural Sciences as part of the university’s Department of Biophysics. He then stayed on for 1½ more years as an Assistant Cancer Research Scientist, where his laboratory team studied interferon as a therapy for deadly diseases such as leukemia and melanoma.
In 1981, Dr. Lewinski headed to medical school at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD. Just before he started there, he married his wife Doreen, who he’d originally met at age 17 and taken to his high school prom. “We didn’t have any money,” he says with a laugh. “The military offered me a great opportunity to study medicine without going into debt.”
Nephrology attracted Dr. Lewinski for being both challenging and what he calls “objective”, or largely numbers-based. “A urinalysis or blood sample is either abnormal or it isn’t,” he explains. “Even with dialysis, there are always numbers to look at, with guidelines based on those findings. I’m a concrete person, and I like that there isn’t a whole lot of guesswork to determine the best treatment approach.”
Dr. Lewinski completed a General Medicine internship and Internal Medicine residency at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. To fulfill his military commitments, he also spent two years based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. As a Battalion Surgeon and later a Regimental Surgeon for the Fleet Marine Force, his deployment sites included California, Wisconsin, Panama, Japan, Korea and Norway. “My dad was a Marine, so I was proud to serve,” he says. He retired as a Captain in the Naval Reserves in 2007.
After two years as a Staff Internist at a Navy medical clinic in New Orleans, Dr. Lewinski finished a two-year fellowship program in Nephrology at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and was a member of the center’s staff for three years. He joined TKS full-time in 1998. He also has been Medical Director of the DaVita Dialysis Chesapeake unit since 2006 and an Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School since 1999. His colleagues have voted him a “Top Doc” for four straight years.
Just like his childhood doctor, Dr. Lewinski enjoys developing personal relationships with patients. “After we cover health issues – medication changes, the right foods to eat, the importance of compliance with their treatment regimens – we just chat about life,” he says. “They’re comfortable with me. They tell me about their families, their travel. I know who roots for what football team. I hope that these positive interactions help them leave my office or the dialysis center feeling good.”
Outside work, Dr. Lewinski is a huge sports fan, cheering for his hometown Buffalo Bills and Sabres and Old Dominion University’s athletic teams. He also is a regular runner who enjoys competing in 5K and 10K races. He and Doreen, a longtime teacher, have two grown children and live in Chesapeake with their Basset Hound, Penny.
The future of nephrology is bright, Dr. Lewinski believes. One promising possibility is a portable dialysis machine that functions much like an insulin pump for diabetics, allowing for constant filtering of blood. Models in clinical trials are either implanted or anchored by a pack outside a patient’s abdomen.
“Healthy kidneys filter blood 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Dr. Lewinski says. “If you can achieve that continuous filtration with a machine, a patient is going to feel much better.”
And one day, he hopes, stem cell injections may even rejuvenate reusable tissue within the kidney. “If we can give more life to an original kidney, that person might never have to go on dialysis or get a transplant,” he says. “That would truly be a game-changer.”