Not only was Thursday International Women's Day, it was also World Kidney Day – a global campaign aimed at raising awareness of the importance of the organ.

This year's focus is on kidney health in women, which can present some unique challenges.

Natasha Penney knows that all too well. Her disease is congenital, something she's dealt with her entire life.

"One kidney at birth ceased to function entirely,” says Penney. “The second native kidney took approximately 15 years to degrade to the point where I required my first transplant.”

It would be the first of three transplants over the years.

"I suffered from chronic nausea and headaches. I had a severe reaction to salt. I had a compromised immune system so it was easy for me to contract infections and colds. I was slower to recover from them and general fatigue," Penney says. 

Transplant nephrologist Dr. Amanda Vinson says new research shows kidney disease is more prevalent in women.

"Women are at higher risk of autoimmune conditions, things like lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis which overtime in some patients can affect the kidneys, but also in women of child-bearing age we know that one of the highest risks for developing kidney failure is pregnancy," says Dr. Vinson.

With existing kidney disease, pregnancy can worsen the condition and lead to complications in both mom and baby. Pregnancy can also have a negative impact should a transplant be required in the future.

"Women who have had pregnancies can develop antibodies at the time of their pregnancy and this can make it actually harder to find a suitable kidney transplant donor," says Dr. Vinson.      

This isn't something Penney experienced, but she says the disease has guided her life decisions.

"I made a conscious choice not to have children. I had my first transplant when I was 15 and my immune suppressant drugs were toxic. And I didn't feel like I had the power to potentially harm a child that I would have wanted to carry myself from the effects of medication," says Penney.

Both women hope the female focus of this year's campaign will help those at risk get diagnosed sooner.