RBT What is the American Kidney Fund doing to slow this trend down?
Ruggiero Prevention of kidney disease has become a big part of the American Kidney Fund's mission. We were founded over 40 years ago to help people with financial costs associated with treating kidney failure. In recent years we have brought into our mission to include prevention because it's so often preventable. The vast majority of cases are caused by diabetes and high blood pressure. We are trying to make people aware that kidney disease is preventable if you have risk factors for it. Our major initiative currently is a national campaign we launched last year called Pair Up: Join the Fight to Prevent Kidney Disease, and that campaign is all about learning if you are at risk for kidney disease and also spreading the word to someone else if you are at risk. That's why we call it Pair Up, because you are pairing up with someone you care about to improve both your health and their health.
We did a national survey last year where we found that the vast majority of people we surveyed had no idea that diabetes and high blood pressure could lead to kidney disease. Even people we surveyed who had loved ones with those conditions didn't know. Once we told them that those conditions could lead to kidney disease, the majority of them were very likely to get their loved ones get tested.
RBT How and when did the idea of Pair Up come from?
Ruggiero We started working on Pair Up about two years ago. We wanted to develop a campaign where people could not only become informed about the risks of kidney disease, but also could get involved and take action. Pair up is more than a campaign, it's a movement. People can come out to our Kidney Action Days events that we hold, they can participate in our walk-a-thons, they can come to our many kidney screenings that we hold around the country. Last year we held screening in 22 cities nation-wide. There are a lot of other actions they can take to get involved and help spread the word to others.
RBT What are some steps that people with high blood pressure and diabetes can take to prevent developing renal disease?
Ruggiero Coming to a Kidney Action Day or getting screened, is really the first step, just finding out if you're at risk. Then you need to be working with a doctor to manage those conditions. The key is keeping diabetes and high blood pressure, if you have it, under control, not allowing them to damage your kidneys. It can't always be prevented but in many cases it can.
RBT Have you seen a change in people's outcomes because of what your organization is doing?
Ruggiero We certainly see, when we look at the results of the people we screened last year— this is not just for Kidney Action Days, but this is for our overall screening program—we screen 60 percent of the people who are uninsured. For those people, we refer them to local resources in their community where they can get health care, even if they don't have insurance. That's providing a huge benefit to them. Last year the participants that we surveyed, almost 80 percent of them had no idea what kind of tests could be done to determine how well their kidneys are working.
We are making people aware, like yes, you can get tested for this and you can take action to prevent yourself from getting kidney disease. If you don't know that you may be at risk for kidney disease then you might not get tested for it. You might not think to ask your doctor about it, you might not think to go to a screening. That is why we art trying so hard to make people aware of the risk factors for kidney disease through our Pair Up campaign.
RBT What are your hopes for the Pair Up campaign?
Ruggiero We hope to grow it over the coming years. We have partnered with quite a few national organizations to help spread the word about the campaign and we hope to keep growing it in the future so that more and more people can become aware of it and can take action through the campaign and not only find out if they are at risk, but also let their friends and loved ones know if they are at risk. The campaign is nation-wide because it is online. Anyone can go onto pairup.org and participate in it. They can take up the pair up challenge, which is a little quiz that gives you information about kidney disease. They can send an e-card to someone who might be at risk to let them know of the risk factors.
In terms of on the ground activity, AKF doesn't have chapters nation-wide per say, we just have our national office in Rockville and we have a couple of regional offices in Chicago, Atlanta and New York, but we do travel around the country to provide screenings at different events. Like I said before, last year, we were at 22 different screenings, screening people for kidney disease. We do send our staff out to do screenings nation-wide.
RBT How do you pick the places to send your screening staff to?
Ruggiero We look at a couple different factors. One is definitely states where the risk is high, states that have higher kidney disease rates. The other factor is, states where the American Kidney Fund gives a lot of financial assistance. We are the nations leading charitable provider financial assistance to kidney patients. We help one out of every four dialysis patients with their treatment-related expenses. We look and see to where are we giving assistance. The top state where we provide assistance is Texas, so we're holding two Kidney Action Days in Texas this year, as we have the past couple years, because there is such a need there.
The other thing we do is we travel a lot of times to events that are held by other organizations for example, the American Diabetes Association has its Diabetes Expo, so we go to diabetes expos and provide kidney screenings at those events.
To learn more about the AKF, educate yourself with kidney disease or get involved log onto http://www.kidneyfund.org