Regie, a superhero made of broccoli, is on a mission from the National Kidney Foundation. Regie is part of a curricular program to promote healthful behaviors to prevent the onset of diabetes and high blood pressure, the leading causes of kidney disease.
The National Kidney Foundation of Michigan and the University of Michigan Health System’s Division of Nephrology offered free kidney health screenings on Wednesday at the University Hospital. The screenings included urine tests and measuring blood pressure and weight. The event was held in honor of World Kidney Day, a global initiative to spread the word about kidney disease.
The event featured tables with information from the National Kidney Foundation and the University Hospital regarding organ donation and palliative care. The tables also contained information about resources such as the Michigan Comprehensive Diabetes Center and the Camp Michitanki program, the latter of which was created by the UMHS Transplant Center.
The event aimed to educate attendees about the risks of kidney disease and teach them about prevention, according to Lindsay White, senior communications coordinator at the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan.
Julia Herzog, program coordinator at the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan, experienced kidney failure after her kidney was damaged in an accident. Herzog said she hopes to raise awareness of kidney disease prevention so others do not have to go through treatments like dialysis, the procedure that filters blood to eliminate waste. She said she hopes kidney disease will be just as well known as other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
“Kidney disease doesn’t usually get the same type of promotion as some of the other chronic diseases,” Herzog said. “It’s not as sexy or attractive as the others because kidneys are associated with urine and peeing.”
Internal Medicine Prof. Richard Swartz, who was honored with the Collegiate Professorship in Nephrology, said treating kidney disease is difficult because it often goes unrecognized. Patients have better outcomes when the disease is detected early and before it develops into later stages or into kidney failure. Chronic kidney disease presents a challenge because it requires dialysis, meaning that patients must visit the hospital multiple times every week for lengthy treatments.
Kathryn Uhler, a peritoneal dialysis nurse at the University Hospital, said dialysis can be discouraging for patients.
“The patients have to change their diet, they might not have as much energy, it may change their job situation,” Uhler said. “It affects the family more than we know.”
Swartz said kidney transplantation is the ultimate solution.
“We do almost one kidney transplant a day here at the hospital,” Swartz said. “The problem is we don’t have enough organs.”
White said of the 3,100 people waiting for an organ transplant in Michigan, 2,600 of are waiting for a kidney. Herzog waited five years for a kidney transplant, and the average wait time in Michigan is five to seven years.
Swartz discussed the need for and research surrounding finding another source of organs, adding that while the research is currently promising, it’s not yet realistic.
“If you work in these areas, you trust technology,” Swartz said, “I’ve seen incredible things. I think it’s going to happen, but not in my lifetime.”
The prevalence of chronic kidney disease is increasing across the country, especially as obesity rates rise.
Theresa Tejada, program coordinator with the early childhood & elementary prevention programs at the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan, said this is why she dresses up as Regie: to promote the healthy behaviors that stop kidney disease in its tracks.