Still Walking After All These Years–But Virtually

Another Kidney Walk date is approaching: Sunday, November 15. My husband, son, and I (our daughter’s up in Brooklyn) will be “there” as usual. Because of the pandemic, this year everyone will be walking in their own neighborhood or location of their choice in the 2020 North Carolina Virtual Kidney Walk. That’s a first.

We’ve walked in more kidney walks than I can count: four or five recent National Kidney Foundation events starting at the Durham Bulls Ballpark location (including last year’s coldest one ever); maybe another four or five NKF walks in Research Triangle Park, which wove through the campus of my long-time employer, RTI International, often a sponsor; plus a few Kidney Kare run/walks in Carrboro, NC, sponsored by the University of North Carolina Transplant Center, where I donated a kidney to my son in 2006.

Just a small sample of my collection of tee shirts from many years of Kidney Walks in North Carolina.

We’ve walked in blistering heat, when the water bottles the helpful volunteers were distributing were downright hot; in chilling cold, with our hoods up and gloved hands clutching thermoses; stepping gingerly over deep puddles, dripping wet as we shunned umbrellas (so far never in snow). Still, the events are usually fun and always inspiring. In the midst of the upbeat music, entertainment, and snacks, there are of course speeches, information, organizations with handouts (so excited that Donate Life/NC WELD–Women Encouraging Living Donation–had a table last year), and health screening booths.

I remember the middle-aged man who spoke to the gathered walkers before the start of the walk a couple of years ago. He described being at one such walk a few years before and deciding to do the screening. There he’d discovered to his shock that he had stage 4 kidney failure. That Kidney Walk saved his life: he began dialysis within a few months and was able to have a transplant a couple of years later.

It bears repeating: chronic kidney disease is a silent killer. Most of the more than 30 million people in this country who have it don’t know it because they don’t have symptoms yet—and may not until it’s too late. The transplant center and NKF have mobile units that do screenings around the state throughout the year. Education, screenings, and research all cost money.

That’s why we walk, wherever. Proudly wearing bibs that say DONOR (me), RECIPIENT (my son), or DONOR FAMILY (my husband), we chat with other walkers (this year it will be through masks). We’ve met hopeful families of kidney patients desperately in need of a kidney, transplant recipients happily walking with a bounce in their step for the first time in years, patients who’ve been on dialysis for more than a decade and may never have a transplant because they have too many other serious health conditions–some are not strong enough for the walk but come out to volunteer and help raise funds for awareness, education, and research.

Please consider donating whatever you can or just share this post on social media or email it to your families and friends. But whether or not you donate to this virtual kidney walk, or to any kidney disease organization, please spread the word about the importance of kidney health—and be sure to get your kidneys checked.

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