Walking for kidney health

It was 38 years ago when Judy Poe, 48, received a kidney transplant after her own had stopped working.

On Saturday, she was one of about 400 people who participated in the seventh annual Baton Rouge Kidney Walk at Pennington Biomedical Research Center to heighten awareness of kidney disease and to raise money for efforts to address kidney disease in the Baton Rouge area.

“It’s called the silent killer because people don’t realize they have it until it’s too late,” said Torie Kranze, chief executive officer of the National Kidney Foundation of Louisiana.

Poe’s failing kidney function was discovered when a teacher saw that her fingers were swollen and called her mom, who then took her to the doctor. After a year on dialysis, which takes on the role of the kidneys to remove waste products from the body, Poe underwent transplant surgery to receive a new kidney.

“I didn’t even know who it was,” she said of the donor.

Poe’s sister, Melinda Coley, 53, said their parents weren’t a match and the rest of Poe’s siblings were too young to donate. So, the kidney came from an anonymous donor.

Poe, her friends and relatives wore towels pinned to the backs of their shirts with their group’s name, Team 38 Special, in honor of Poe’s 38 years of living with a new kidney.

In Louisiana, there are 8,700 people on dialysis and 1,800 people on a transplant waiting list, Kranze said.

Diabetes and high blood pressure are the two leading causes of kidney failure across the nation, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

The National Kidney Foundation of Louisiana offers free screenings and anyone interested is asked to call the office at (504) 861-4500 or toll free at (800) 462-3694, Kranze said.

Other participants in Saturday’s kidney walk haven’t gotten on the transplant list yet, including Wardell Comeaux, 48, of Gonzales, who said he’s been on dialysis for five years.

Participating in the kidney walk for the second year with his family, Comeaux said he couldn’t get on the transplant list because of his heart problems.

However, now that he’s recovering from his heart ailment, Comeaux said, he is waiting for his doctor to clear him so he can get on the list for a kidney transplant.

“A lot of people don’t know about kidney failure,” Comeaux said.

As a veteran of the dialysis process, Comeaux said, he tries to talk to new patients who arrive at the center to begin treatment, since it’s all new and unfamiliar to them.

“They don’t know what’s next,” he said. “They get nervous.”

Joyce Denson, 78, also has been going through dialysis treatment for five years, but when she turned 77, she was taken off the transplant list because of her age.

“I took it good,” Denson said. “If this is what it’s supposed to be, I’ll accept it.”

Using a cane for support as she participated in the walk, she said she was really enjoying her first time at the kidney walk.

“They played music. I got up and danced,” Denson said with a laugh. “I think more people should come out and support it.”

Saturday’s event raised about $30,000 of the $45,000 goal, Kranze said, but online donations will be accepted for another week via http://www.kidneywalk.org.