Friday, August 30, 2013

Volunteer Weekend and The Point of All This

I get a lot of things from my mom.  And not that I expected this, but I also inherited her love for volunteering.  While going through the kidney transplant process and as things grew a bit more stressful with the wedding planning, my volunteer aims sort of fell through the cracks. My gig working with kids at the homeless shelter in my city ended, partly because I was tired and partly because I had to commit a few more hours to planning a big party for 200 people. 

Well, as I'm sure you can imagine, I have a LOT more free time on my hands now.  The wedding happened (THANK GOD). The transplant happened (THANKS AGAIN, GOD).  And this cray cray summer schedule is starting to wind down.  Which means I can finally dedicate more time to "giving back."  I kind of hate that saying.  It annoys me a little.  Maybe because I've heard it in too many rap songs and PSAs.  But, I'm scarily unoriginal for a blogger, so we'll just go with it.

This past Saturday, I "gave back" with a few other volunteers from the National Kidney Foundation.  NKF leaders, directors and volunteers are incredibly dedicated to the prevention and treatment of kidney disease, and spreading awareness about the disease.  I joined them on Saturday at a small scale health fair/family fun day in an affordable housing community. NKF had a booth, halfway situated in the hot sun, and the other half under the shade of tents.  

The community where the fair was held is predominately, if not 99.9 percent, African-American.  So I think we were definitely in the right place.  African-Americans and other minorities are at a greater risk for kidney disease, due in part to the prevalence of other diseases in these minority groups that can put wear and tear on the kidneys.

At these fairs, when passing out the information, I try to make sure people have an idea of what they are reading.  One of the most important pieces of paper, in my opinion, is the risk sheet.  It asks three questions to determine your risk for kidney disease:  A) do you or does anyone in your family have a history of kidney disease? B) do you or does anyone in your family have a history of diabetes or high blood pressure?  C) are you in a minority group? 

Unsurprisingly, because of where we were at, at least 80 percent of the people who stopped by our booth met at least one of the risk factors.  

Going off on a slight tangent here, this blog post was supposed to go up on Wednesday.  But I received news that a family friend who had just had a kidney transplant, died suddenly, just a day or two after the operation.  His family does not yet know the cause of his death.  After hearing this I had this intense sinking feeling in my gut and tried to make sense of what happened.  I prayed for his family as they also tried to make sense of what happened.  And I all of a sudden became aware of my own mortality.  Tomorrow is not promised.  For anyone.  And living with a kidney transplant, almost makes me even more aware of the fact that every day is a gift.  My life is a gift.  Every minute that this kidney is filtering, weeding out toxins, regulating blood pressure, and just doing it's a gift.  

It is my hope that through volunteering NKF, I can give people something that my family didn't have when I was 15, when I still took my life for granted: knowledge.  And that's also part of the reason that I started this blog.  

  • If you or anyone in your family has a history of high blood pressure, don't wait another second before changing your lifestyle.  In some cases, mild cases of elevated blood pressure can be resolved with increase exercise and a switch to a low-sodium dietWhat people don't realize is, the salt content in our food has increased significantly over the last 50 years with the spread of fast food restaurants, convenience meals, and processed foods.  A low-sodium diet isn't just good for people who have or are at risk for high blood pressure and kidney disease, but it's something that should be adopted by the general public.  
  • I want to stress this:  high blood pressure is a diseaseIt is a disease that comes with no symptoms most of the time.  Which means, you could have it, but don't know it.  If left untreated, high blood pressure can seriously wreck your kidneys and your heart. 
  • If you are at risk for kidney disease, make sure you ask for a creatinine test.  Creatinine is removed from the blood by the kidneys.  If your creatinine is too high, there's a chance the kidneys aren't working correctly. 
I think back my first appointment with my pediatric nephrologist, Dr. Yao.  And how scared and confused I was.  And how my blood pressure was 140/90.  And how there was protein in my urineI also remember how I had no idea what it all meant.  I'd made it through my childhood and preteen years with no health problems. Then all of a sudden my kidneys were only functioning at 30 percent.  I wonder nowadays how many other people out there are like I was back then. 

Well, judging from the health fair, there are still a lot of people who are unaware.  For that reason, I thank God that I went through this trial. 

If you're reading this and you really could care less about blood pressure or salty food or waste levels, well that's OK.  Because I care about your blood pressure, your salt intake, and your waste levels.  And I'm going to continue caring until we have a cure.  

In memory of Hugh West, Jr.