By Kasia Michalik
The American Kidney Fund (AKF) began in 1971 when a group of neighbors from Montgomery County, Md., came together to raise money for one neighbor who was had kidney failure and became bankrupt paying for dialysis treatment.
"Originally it was to provide financial assistance to help one person get dialysis treatment. That remained at the heart of our mission which is to help people who are in kidney failure, get health care," said LaVarne Burton, president and CEO of the AKF.
From assisting one to about one-quarter of those currently on dialysis, the AKF helps people with kidney disease financially. That is a major part of the nonprofit organization, and has been for the last 41 years.
Located in Rockville, Md., and with operations in Atlanta, Chicago and Long Island, NY, the organization offers help nationwide.
Financial help is only a part of what AKF is known for. It strives to educate and prevent the disease through outreach and awareness.
"Just a year ago we launched a major national awareness campaign to increase the understanding and awareness of the risk of kidney disease," Burton said. "That effort is embedded in a strategy called Pair Up."
The AKF targets women for the campaign because they are the ones who can spread the word.
"We call upon those women to learn, first of all, their own risk of kidney disease, and to 'pair up,' to join with a loved one or a friend and help that person assess their risks," Burton said.
Many educational activities—public education, as well as professional education—helps the public better understand what to keep an eye out for and how to prevent end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Discussing how to control high blood pressure and diabetes is a major topic for AKF educators.
"Kidney disease is one of those that you don't see the symptoms until you're in full blown kidney failure," Burton said. "We have to give people some markers that they can look for along the way."
The Kidney Action Day is free, family-friendly event that helps people understand the disease. It offers free health screenings, cooking demonstrations, entertainment, education and contests.
A major focus for the AKF is on certain ethnic and racial minorities because they are at a higher risk at developing kidney failure.
"They are at higher risk, particularly African Americans, Hispanic Americans," Burton said. "As you get older you're at a higher risk. We want them to know that if they fall into those groups or have high blood pressure, diabetes or if they have a blood relative who has been in kidney failure—they are put in a higher risk category."
Currently, AKF helps one in four patients with kidney failure. They cover their insurance premiums and medications.
"Many of them need nutritional supplements. We help them obtain those and we help them with the cost of transportation to and from dialysis," Burton said.
The AKF has been rated by every organization that examines charitable organizations as one of the top in the country when it comes down to stewardship of the donated dollar and efficiency.
"This past January we received our 10th consecutive four-star rating from Charity Navigator, that's the highest rating a charity can get," Burton said. "Only about 1 percent of charities in the country have had 10 consecutive four-star ratings."
Out of every dollar that the AKF collects, 97 cents goes for patient assistance and education.