James Goodnow (Courtesy photo)
James Goodnow (Courtesy photo)

It was nearly three years ago when James Goodnow, a licensed attorney, found his life turning upside down.

Diagnosed with kidney disease and without a family history of the illness, he sought medical attention that would include hospitalization.

Fortunately, he survived.

“Kidney disease is a silent killer that affects all segments of the population but it has a particularly devastating impact on African-American communities,” Goodnow said.

“Individuals with kidney disease can be largely asymptomatic until they reach the advanced stages of the disease. The key for prevention is early screening. A family doctor or the local chapter of the National Kidney Foundation can offer a simple blood and urine test to identify risk factors. Early detection saves lives – period,” he said.

Moved by what he had learned, Goodnow went online with an idea called “The Kidney Challenge.”

The goal: to encourage others to speak up about kidney disease by taking a personal challenge. Those who have accepted the challenge have done things like jumping out of airplanes, lifting weights, breaking boards or entering beauty pageants – all as a means of offering support in the fight against kidney disease.

Wanting to do even more, Goodnow then faced one of his greatest fears – entering his name in one of the world’s largest public speaking competitions which to date has over 30,000 participants.

“With 27,000 people on our Facebook page, ‘The Kidney Challenge’ serves as a place where kidney disease sufferers and survivors can share stories and be inspired,” Goodnow said.

Based on recent statistics, kidney disease ranks as the ninth-leading cause of death in America, claiming more victims than either breast or prostate cancer.

For many, particularly African-Americans, the cost associated with battling kidney disease can be prohibitive.

Alice Andors, a spokesperson for the American Kidney Fund in Rockville, Maryland, said the nonprofit helps one out of every five American dialysis patients better afford the cost of their health care, adding that minorities disproportionately represent those seeking their financial assistance.

“One critical area to focus on is the fact that kidney disease often has no symptoms until the later stages,” she said. “In fact, about 38 percent of new cases of kidney failure each year are people who have not been under the care of a nephrologist,” she said.

“This is called a ‘crash landing’ into kidney failure,” Andors noted.

In January, the NAACP announced the launch of a series of town hall events in communities across the country to improve knowledge about kidney disease and dialysis treatment options for African-Americans.

The program, dubbed “NAACP Dialysis Health Imperative for Access, Choice and Equity [ACE],” informs communities about access to care while illuminating the disproportionate impact that kidney disease has on Blacks and other people of color.

Blacks comprise 32 percent of Americans with kidney failure – a rate that’s more than double their representation in the national population, based on figures from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

“Given the high rates of African-Americans and people of color living with kidney disease, it is important that they have the information needed to manage their illness effectively and can access the best treatment modalities available, including home-based therapies,” said Dr. Marjorie Innocent, NAACP’s senior director of health programs.

“At the same time, there needs to be more targeted efforts in communities nationwide to inform people about how to prevent kidney disease and live healthier lives. We must focus on disease management while not putting aside basic prevention,” she said.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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