At Sunday’s Kidney Walk, a small, but important organ gets its moment of awareness.
By Denise Clay
Kidney dialysis is a long, tough process.
It’s a process that international Philadelphia-based hip-hop artist Freeway knows well. Due to kidney failure brought on by high blood pressure and diabetes, he was on dialysis, and it took the fun out of a lot of things.
“Food didn’t excite me,” he said. “When I was on dialysis, I was drained. Dialysis does what your kidney does; drain the toxins out. They put two needles in you, one to drain the blood so it drains out the toxins and fluids and the other to put your blood in. I had to do it three days a week, four hours a day.”
In February, after putting himself on transplant lists at both Einstein Medical Center here in Philadelphia and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore to better his chances, Freeway got a new kidney and is doing well according to his doctors, he said.
His taste buds are also back in service.
“When I ate after I got the new kidney, I tasted all of the flavors and seasonings,” he said.
Freeway was among the more than 1,500 people who know someone, are someone, or love someone battling kidney disease that participated in the annual Philadelphia Kidney Walk this past Sunday on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The walk, which was sponsored by Fresenius Medical Care North America as part of the 2019 Kidney Walk series, served as a way to draw attention to an organ that’s still a mystery to many of us, said Andrea Giannini, development director for the Kidney Foundation.
“The biggest thing is that people don’t know what [kidneys] do to start with,” Giannini said. “They perform such an important function by filtering all of the toxins out of your body and it’s a really important job for such a small organ. They call kidney disease the ‘the silent killer’, because the symptoms don’t present themselves until you’re in kidney failure. Once that happens, it can’t be reversed and you need a new kidney.”
In addition to raising funds for the various programs the Kidney Foundation does to educate people on the importance of kidney health, the Kidney Walk also provides funding for programs designed to encourage people to donate a kidney, or “share your spare”, become part of a chain of kidney donors that could help someone you want to donate a kidney to should you not be a match, and how to ask someone to, literally, give of themselves to help.
This education is important because the average time on the transplant list for someone waiting for a kidney extracted from a cadaver is seven years. Plus, live kidneys are better from a donation perspective, Giannini said.
“That’s one of the most important parts of the process,” she said. “We have to dispel a lot of myths about kidney donation, so we host a workshop that teaches people how to make the ask. We also work with a lot of transplant centers for this education.”
But one of the most important things financed by the Kidney Walk is research designed to help prevent kidney disease and to help those who are already dealing with it. For example, the kidney that Freeway was able to get from Johns Hopkins came from a program that allows the kidneys of people with Hepatitis C to be reused as donor kidneys.
While there was a risk involved, the reward was his focus, Freeway said.
“Hundreds of kidneys with Hepatitis-C are thrown away every year,” he said. “I was on Hepatitis C medicine for three weeks and once I passed the 12 week mark, I was considered cured. Once they approved me of the program, it cut my wait time for a new kidney. I wasn’t afraid because they had done 100 trials before me, and they were all successful. [This program] is going to save so many lives.”
But avoiding kidney disease is as easy as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, Giannini said. Because the main risk factors for the disease are high blood pressure and diabetes, two things that impact the Black community a great deal, watching your blood pressure, eating a diet low in sodium, and doing all you can to avoid contracting diabetes are some of the best ways to make sure that you don’t find yourself battling kidney failure, she said.
If you would like to participate in the Philadelphia Kidney Walk, registration at the Philadelphia Museum of Art begins at 7a.m. and the walk begins at 8am. You can register yourself or a team at kidneywalk.org until Saturday or you can also register on site on Sunday.
The Philadelphia Kidney Walk was presented by National Multi-Market Partners Azura Vascular Care, LogistiCare Solutions LLC and Relypsa Inc, Locally Presenting Sponsor HFF, Platinum Sponsors Camp Construction Services and Reliable Roofing, Gold Sponsors Art & Gail Pasquarella, Cozen O’Connor and Equus Capital Partners, LTD., Silver Sponsors Aurinia Pharmaceuticals, Cantel, Capital One, CBRE, Charles Friel Inc. Landscape Contractors/Friel Grounds, DM Dilella Family Foundation, IMC Construction and Morgan Stanley.