“The diseases that lead to kidney disease, such as high blood pressure or hypertension and diabetes, are much more concentrated in African American populations,” said J. Keith Melancon, former director of the kidney and pancreas transplantation at the Georgetown Transplant Institute. “There’s also a genetic factor.”
The National Kidney Foundation has designated March kidney awareness month.
Far more African Americans need a kidney transplant than there are available kidneys. One reason is that most donors are white and often are not a match for African American patients. The District, Melancon said, has the highest rate of end-stage renal disease in the country. The waiting list for a black person in need of a kidney, he said, is five to six years.
Because of previously undiagnosed health issues, including heart disease or lung cancer, only one in four people who want to donate are cleared to do so. Here are a few stories of people touched by the disease.
‘There was definitely no turning back’
Her brother’s kidney’s were failing, and Pretha Mitchell knew what she had to do. They had the same blood type, and she was in great health.
A Jazzercise instructor for more than 20 years, Mitchell was going to donate a kidney to save her brother’s life.
She was 51. Gerard, her brother, was 41.
As part of her preparation, Mitchell met with doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital last year to take a battery of tests. During four hours of interviews, the doctors tried to convey the seriousness of the surgery and possible repercussions.
“I got really, really scared,” Mitchell said. “Here I was being told, ‘Well you know there’s always a percent, a possibility’ that I would not survive the surgery.”
Just before the surgery in June, she wrote a will. “There was definitely no turning back,” she said.
The operation was a success. Mitchell said she feels better than she did before the transplant. She was back at work five weeks after surgery and returned to teaching Jazzercise in November.
Meanwhile, her brother is doing well, too. He returned to Trinidad in August and has made significant lifestyle changes, such as a better diet.
“If there’s anybody out there that is thinking about donating a kidney, I would encourage them,” Mitchell said. “It is a gift.”
‘What am I going to do?’
Ric Cureton shouldn’t have been walking two winters ago when he showed up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
He was dehydrated, his heart was racing and his blood pressure was so high that he was admitted immediately.
“I shouldn’t have been standing upright,” Cureton said he was told.
After a series of tests, he received a diagnosis of end-stage kidney failure and lupus. It was a surprise to Cureton, 36, who had served 12 years in the military and four years in the reserves. He worked out regularly and thought he was in perfect health.