Real Funds and Real Sun for a Virtual Kidney Walk

Well, my husband, son, and I participated in the 2020 North Carolina virtual kidney walk this weekend. Yes, it was different from all the others we’ve walked in, but many things were familiar. Most important was the opportunity to raise sorely needed funds for kidney disease research and awareness. By the end of the day, with fundraising still going on, they’d already raised more than $100,000!

All laced up, and masked up, of course, and ready to walk! That’s Paul on the end and my husband, Neil, in the middle.

And it’s always special to have an opportunity to hear moving stories from kidney recipients and donors, even if they had to do it online. It would have been great to meet them in person. A few takeaways:

A familiar, sobering one, came in hearing from transplant recipients and dialysis patients and learning that, like my son, Paul, their kidney disease diagnosis had come as a shock. One young woman said she’d felt sick one day and gone to the ER, and learned that she had only 15 percent of kidney function. Another was a seemingly healthy, young fitness instructor who developed baffling and serious symptoms. After multiple biopsies she was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease, FSGS. She was fortunate to receive a transplant 4 years ago.

It bears repeating–the symptoms of chronic kidney disease are usually not apparent until it’s advanced nearly to kidney failure and the need for dialysis or transplant. That’s why prevention is so critical and early detection so important. And when a kidney is needed, living donation is the key to shorter waits and better outcomes.

When a couple of the donors spoke, I found myself nodding in agreement, as always, at what a positive experience donation is for the donor, not only the recipient. Eerily, one of them used almost the exact words I’d used a couple of weeks ago in a video I filmed for Donate Life/WELD: I was surprised at how incredibly gratifying it was for me personally…I never expected the impact it would have on my own life…

Luckily, this walk may have offered the best weather we’ve ever had for a kidney walk: a breezy, sunny day in the 70s. And that was real, not virtual.

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.