Ember Duke | Staff Writer
Thousands gathered at the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium early Sunday morning to fundraise and spread awareness of kidney disease at the city’s annual Kidney Walk.
Hosted by the National Kidney Foundation, which provides care, knowledge and support across the country, the walk was a moment of positivity for those whose lives have been uprooted by the disease.
Development manager for Western Pa.’s branch of the foundation Molly Doehring was excited by this year’s turnout. She hoped the walk would educate people and encourage them to get tested for possible kidney match donation.
“It’s about coming together, celebrating life. Lots of people who attend this obviously have a connection to kidney disease whether they are a patient themselves or they know somebody,” Doehring said. “It’s bringing people together and making people aware that kidney disease is so prevalent in our community.”
Every year, the walk raises over $200,000 to be re-dispersed within the region. Roughly 80% of every dollar goes to research and programs like The Big Ask, The Big Give, which teaches patients how to ask for a kidney transplant and Drive for Dialysis, which provides comforts for patients on dialysis.
Though small, kidneys are crucial to healthy body functions. They filter waste in the bloodstream, help regulate blood pressure and help maintain the production of nutrients like calcium and production, according to The National Kidney Foundation website.
The leading causes are diabetes and high blood pressure, but other factors such as family history and autoimmune diseases also put people at risk. Kidney failure is treated by dialysis, which supplements the kidney functions or a kidney transplant. Doehring said that early intervention can prevent the disease from worsening, but many do not realize they have it.
“Unfortunately, people don’t find out until it’s in a later stage because that’s when you start getting symptoms,” Doehring said. “But we really just try to preach ‘ask your doctor,’ especially if you have one of the risk factors. All you really need to do is ask your doctor for a simple urinalysis.”
Keynote speaker Taylor Myer shared her story of conquering stage 5 kidney failure to rouse the crowd’s spirits before embarking on the three-mile walk.
“I had to adjust to life with kidney disease,” she said. “I also urge all of you to please sign up to be a living donor because if it wasn’t for my wonderful donor, Shelly, I wouldn’t have the opportunity of a second life.”
The event brought a sense of community for transplant recipients like Oula Khalifa, who has battled kidney disease for over 15 years.
“We raised so much money, so it’s awesome to see the participants. It’s been amazing to see how many people are affected by kidney disease but then how many people’s lives get better. And the ones that haven’t made it— we can remember them still,” she said.
In the three walks she has attended, Khalifa has always felt the walk was successful in its efforts to inform the public, saying it was not until she had kidney disease herself that she, her family or her friends knew more about its impact.
Khalifa’s friends now come yearly to support and to help fundraise.
Khlood Salman, associate nursing professor at Duquesne, said that being proactive about kidney health can prevent its intensity.
“The best thing is prevention and early identification. Prevention includes screenings periodically like check ups, even if they don’t feel any symptoms they should get screening and check ups,” she said. “And If they find any symptoms like burning during urination for example or pain on the side of the body, or anything they should go to the doctor and check it.”
She also recommended keeping a clean diet and lifestyle so the kidney does not have to filter excess toxins from the body.
“The best thing for the kidney is to drink water,” she said.
Courtney Martin, a fellow transplant recipient, pointed out that kidney disease is often overlooked, and she was grateful to see people acknowledge the issue since so many individuals endure it. She believed that the annual walk provides necessary information about the disease.
Todd Diperna, who has been on dialysis for a year and is awaiting a transplant, was happy that the walk brought his family together and served as a moment of inspiration rather than something negative.
“Everybody’s been so nice. I’ve been running into a lot of different people,” he said.
Diperna urged people to get tested and learn what they can do to prevent others from struggling.
“It’s a silent killer, always get your blood checked ’cause you don’t know,” he said.
The National Kidney Foundation takes donations until Dec. 31 and hopes to raise 30,000 more dollars to meet its yearly goal.
To donate visit: https://www.kidney.org/