When was the last time you gave thought to your health, or for that matter gave thought to your kidney health? In the United States alone, more than 26 million Americans – that’s one in eight adults – battle chronic kidney disease (CKD), with 20 million more at an increased risk of obtaining CKD. This silent and often symptomless disease can sneak up on an individual, and high risk groups include those with diabetes, hypertension or those with a family history of kidney disease. As kidney disease develops, those afflicted may experience complications like high blood pressure, anemia, weak bones and nerve damage. Kidney disease also increases risk of heart and blood vessel disease.
However, there is an organization out there looking to take CKD head on: the National Kidney Foundation. This voluntary health organization, with regional offices across the country, seeks to prevent kidney and urinary disease, as well as promote free screenings, provide patient education, promote organ donation, raise funds and awareness for CKD, and more.
Cara McKinney, Director of Development for the National Kidney Foundation serving Georgia and Alabama, says she is a staunch supporter of the Kidney Early Evaluation Program, or KEEP Program, which recently screened its 100,000th participant. “Many people do not know they have a kidney disease, while one in seven adults in Georgia has kidney disease. Our goal is to screen through the KEEP Program to prevent or postpone individuals having to go on dialysis,” McKinney says. “With the foundation, we can help change the diet. Individuals can meet with a physician at the screening and go over basic results. A social worker takes the time to call to go over results, and will follow up a year later to make sure they go to the doctor. We don’t want to just screen, we want to make sure a person does not go on dialysis. We want them to be supported.”
McKinney also notes the foundation’s growing emphasis on living donation and organ donation as a way to improve the quality of life for those with CKD. “I believe in organ donation. I believe it’s a gift of life, and the more donors we have, the more people can live a full, functional life.” Board member Jim Rathburn of Alpharetta, who was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease in his late 30s, avoided dialysis and received a kidney transplant from his sister in 2008. Rathburn, who joined the board right before his kidney transplant, says one of the reasons he became a member was to “do what I could to give back to make sure others experience what I did.”
“Personally, I have been passionate about trying to communicate to spread the word and receive support for donations. I would like to see awareness get to a tipping point where people are apt to donate,” Rathburn says. “And not only donate, but more importantly, to become living donors. We’re starting to see more and more stories of that. People donating to strangers, people donating to ones they love. These are really impressive stories of human kindness.”
Fundraisers for the National Kidney Foundation, such as the Kidney Walk, the NKF Cadillac Golf Classic tournament, and various other events across the nation, help to support health fairs, the KEEP Program, Camp Independence, a non-profit camp for children diagnosed with kidney disease or a solid organ transplant, and the Donor Recognition program, as well as many others. For more information, visit www.kidney.org, or to find local events, visit www.kidneyga.org.