Have a heart and help a kidney

Courtesy of Jean Kelly

Julius Ross, CCE SGA vice president, felt sick every other day, but he thought it was just stress.

He had no idea.

“I’ve always been a workaholic,” said Ross. “I thought I was just working myself to death, and that’s why I was being so sick.”

But a month later, the illness persisted. Ross decided to seek medical attention.

“When the doctor saw me, I was in his office for 15 minutes, and he told me, ‘We’ve got to get you out of here now — your kidneys are failing,’” said Ross.

Turns out, Ross is one of the 26 million Americans suffering from chronic kidney disease. He was also one of the 30 percent of sufferers who did not know it.

“That ‘most of them don’t know it’ thing is what needs to change,” said Shelley Minor, development director for the National Kidney Foundation, as she addressed the crowd of eager participants for the first Guilford College Kidney Walk on Sat. March 17. “The reason we do walks like this is to raise awareness.”

Shortly thereafter, the group set out on a path around campus in the name of raising awareness — and raising funds — for the NKF.

“I’ve worked closely with the National Kidney Foundation, and their funds — as with most non-profits — are dwindling,” said Ross. “The donations are not coming in on a regular basis … Non-profits across the board are suffering because of the economy.”

Ross has been assisting the NKF since his dialysis support group collaborated with the foundation to sponsor a Kidney Early Evaluation Program screening, which serves to detect the early onset of kidney disease before treatments like dialysis become necessary.

The CCE SGA collected donations at the Kidney Walk on behalf of the NKF to help fund programs like the KEEP screenings. Some individuals even traveled door-to-door during the weeks before the event, gathering donations from the larger community.

“I haven’t really had any trouble collecting (donations) because I have a lot of friends who are firefighters in the city and … they’ve stepped up and given me donations, and family and some friends too,” said Mary Swan, a renal patient who met Ross through their dialysis support group.

Fundraising efforts culminated on the unexpectedly sunny morning March 17.

Volunteers gathered bright and early to paint faces and raffle off specially designed t-shirts; Minor gave out health pamphlets and collected last-minute donations. When the clock struck 10 a.m. the group set off for a winding path through the campus.

Apples, water bottles and loud cheers awaited walkers as they neared the finish line.

“My mother suffers from kidney disease, and I just want to help show support,” said LaTasha Siler, who participated in the walk. Siler also donated one of her kidneys to her mother.

Ross has been on dialysis for four years, and is waiting for a new kidney. Although his B positive blood type is very fitting in describing his optimistic outlook, its rarity has made it difficult to find a match.

“For people that are on dialysis, you can figure the wait time to be anywhere from six months to six years to get the transplant,” said Ross. “But with my rare blood type, unless somebody comes forward and says, ‘I might be a match,’ it could be five years or more. … I have to just use my faith that it’s going to happen.”

In total, the CCE SGA raised over $1,500 to support the NKF and their efforts. Not only will these funds help provide services for dialysis patients like Ross, they will also go toward community education, research and early detection screenings for those who might not even know that they are sick yet.