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A brief history of the Kidney Kars donation program, 1-800-Tow-Kars and www.towkars.org

    Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

kidney kars vw

Just for fun today, I counted up the number of car donations and the amount of money that I personally have helped the National Kidney Foundation of Utah & Idaho raise through the Kidney Kars donation program ( www.towkars.org) . I started the Kidney Kars program the first year I came to the NKF of U & I and the same year I graduated college in 1991. It was one of the first 5 charity car donation programs in the entire country.  I asked my best friend, Simeen Brown, an illustration art major (at the time) to create the artwork for the ads.  She helped me come up with the 1-800-tow-Kars phone number. I started by putting a free ads and flyers in the Provo, American Fork, Bountiful, Farmington, Ogden and Salt Lake City Utility Bills and city newsletters. Later Zion’s, First Interstate Bank, and Wells Fargo agreed to put our Kidney Cars flyers into customer statements. These efforts reached over 1,000,000 Utahns and pretty soon the phones were ringing off the hook.  Previous to the Kidney Kars car donation program YOU had to pay someone to come take your old car away. So, in two states like Utah and Idaho, famously frugal, financially literate, fiscally conservatives– the idea of free towing coupled with the tax deduction went over like wildfire.

So there I was, a young  fresh faced girl, just 23 year old and barely out of college hoping to change the world by towing away junk cars.  I drove my 1981 silver VW Diesel  Rabbit  to visit and contract with every wrecking yard in every corner of Utah and Idaho.  I put over 20,000 miles on the rabbit that year, and then donated the next year to Kidney Kars with about 285,000 miles on it. (I replaced the rabbit with a 1990 VW Golf GTI).  In an industry (towing, wrecking yards, scrap metal) where integrity, charity, and ‘environmentally friendly’ were laughable ideas, I  somehow talked them into PAYING  US– the Kidney Foundation– for a steady stream of  donated cars (and to tow them away for FREE).  I cut contracts with agencies whose ‘service center’ consisted of  guys shirtless under their overalls, missing teeth, chewing a toothpick with a vacant look in their eyes.  With the money I got them to pay us for those car donations, the NKF of U & I  was able to fund the first life saving financial aid/patient services programs and began funding local medical research. It was a miracle.  At the time,  the price of scrap metal was $30 a ton (today it’s more in the $225-350 range). So we were getting between $30-$75 just for junk cars.  The third year of operation, a doctor from Sandy, Utah donated a 1963 Mercedes 250 SL convertible with red leather interior and white wall tires.  We got England Trucking to haul the car down to the Barrett-Jackson Auction in Scottsdale for free.  The auction donated the sales space and fees.  We made $17,600. This single-handedly funded two years of the Kidney Patient Educational Scholarship program (for young adult/ pediatric Kidney Transplant recipients).

kidney kars original artwork 1

It’s weird how I got my motivation and experience to make money for charity by selling used cars.  I grew up in East County Southern California with a dad who LOVED cars– Baja bugs, dune buggies, and  race cars.  He was fond of German engineering and diesel engines. Our garage was bigger than our house and it’s where he spent most of his time. We had no less than 8-10 running cars at any given time. It was my job to change oil, make sure there was water in the battery caps, that the cables were connected, the idle adjusted, and that there was correct air pressure in the tires.  I also washed and detailed (vacuumed under seats and shook rugs, Amour All-ed the seats/dash/tires, Windex-ed the windows inside and out, chamois dried the body, and then hand waxed) at least 3 cars every Saturday before I could even THINK about asking to do something fun.  But not until I’d assisted my dad further (usually overhauling an engine or transmission) by cleaning his car parts in an open pan of gasoline, and then using a wire brush to scratch off the oily gunk.  I got $4.00 per car per full detail,  plus a little extra for the garage assist. Today, a detail job like that will run you $60.00 a car.

My favorite cars were my Dad’s  Diesel Mercedes 250D, a Porsche 911 and a Porsche 935 (a Candy Apple red, Turbo Carrerra).  My Dad is dead now, so I can say this out loud.  But one night when he was away (during a full moon) I drove the red Porsche East on Highway 8  through the Ocatillo Desert and the Imperial Valley.  That car easily traveled at 120 mph without even engaging the turbo. It was an amazing machine.  But, in spite owning an extra Porsche,  I was given a 1967 pieced out VW Bug  to drive. It had 3 different colored quarter panels. “Pretty girl, Ugly car” is what my Dad always said. We lived on 5 acres of dusty granite with a few horses, and a LOT of cars. That’s how it was.

My first taste of fundraising was at  BYU (Provo, Utah).  I started the first on campus Woman’s Rights group “Voice”– which I had to help keep funded to keep it alive.  Additionally, I worked in the library as a research/reference assistant and helped professors get their grants so I could have a job. After college, a good friend told me his Mother (CEO, Deen Vetterli) was trying to start a fundraising program selling donated used cars.  It was the perfect segway between my experience in grant writing and fundraising and a history of working on old cars and being comfortable haggling prices with wrecking yards.  By starting the Kidney Kars program, I imagined every wife and daughter in America (whose husband or dad had  8 cars parked around the house)  breathing a collective deep sigh of relief.  Finally!  A tax deduction and free towing as an incentive to get rid of all those cars parked out back. In fact one of the first huge car donation projects publicized on all the news channels, was when a 80 year old retired car dealer in Sunset Utah was given a notice by the city to get rid of his rotting inventory parked out back. He had 40 cars on his property and no way to get rid of them ( http://www.deseretnews.com/article/624713/Foundation-hits-gold-40-old-cars-in-the-mud.html?pg=all). It was huge and together with all the community and municipal support and the Governor’s appointment of the Kidney Kars program to the “Take Pride in Utah” (Utah’s Statehood Centennial Celebration) Kidney Cars and Kidney Kars hit pay dirt and kept on rolling along.

So many generous people have given us their Kidney Car/ Kidney Kars charity car donation in Utah and Idaho. Many, many people repeated their car donations time and again (up to 5 donations in 10 years) just for the tax deduction and the free towing. Even with the changes in the tax law that limits the amount that can be claimed on their taxes, and even the Cash For Clunkers incentive–  Utahns and Idahoans have continued to generously give the Kidney Foundation their ‘Kidney Kars’ charity car donations. Such generous, decent people in Utah and Idaho. I pledge allegiance to Utah for giving my weird skill set a purpose and my deepest car related neurosis a therapeutic outlet.

I have personally overseen every single aspect of the National Kidney Foundation of Utah & Idaho’s Kidney Kars / Kidney Cars donation program (1-800-Tow-Kars and the development of www.towKars.org). I am proud to say, we have received and sold more than 92,000 vehicle donations and raised over $20,000,000 dollars on behalf of Utah and Idaho Kidney Patients.

Kidney disease and dialysis are so miserable for so many people. I have made and lost so many friends to Kidney Failure since 1991.  How can I thank the Kidney Foundation enough for giving me a meaningful little place in the world to help save lives and help lighten the burden and improve the quality of life for Utah and Idaho Kidney patients?

I can personally assure you that your Kidney Cars/Kidney Kars donation in Utah and Idaho is put to amazing good use locally.

Cheers,

Luz Lewis Perez

Student who hears our Kids and Kidneys Presentation to Donate Kidney

    Friday, May 30th, 2014

 Hi there!

I had your 8th grade health class  last year and heard the Kids and Kidneys presentation.

You’re probably wondering why I am emailing you out of the blue. It’s not to see if you remember ME out of thousands of students but rather, I just thought you might be interested to know that your class has changed my life, and hopefully is about to change someone else’s. Ever since your Kidney Organ Donation activity I have been so interested in Organ Donation and have always wanted to be able to donate.

When I was younger I thought the only way was to hope that donation after death would be a possibility for me. As I got older, I realized living donation is something I would be willing to do for someone I loved. I secretly wanted to know someone, who knew someone that needed a donation. Earlier this year, I realized that I do not need to wait for someone I know to become sick, as I researched ‘Good Samaritan’ donors.

I have now “applied” for  Good Samaritan donation through YES Utah. I have undergone a medical history evaluation for living kidney donation to a person in need. I have my first testing appointment today, and will continue to test to find a match. I’m am beyond excited for this. To be able to improve someone’s quality of life like this would be a dream come true. My fingers are crossed that I will for sure be able to be a donor, without problems.

I just wanted to let  you know that without your class I would have not considered this to the extent it took. I wouldn’t have been nearly as interested, and it wouldn’t have been something I always think about. Thank you for your inspiration.

Sincerely,

K. Young

U of U Hospital Live Tweets Kidney Transplant

    Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

 

U of U tweeting kidney transplanthttp://www.ksl.com/?sid=29977199&nid=148&title=u-hospital-live-tweets-kidney-transplant&s_cid=queue-4

https://twitter.com/UofUHealthCare  #Transplant #uofuKT #livingdonor #donatelife

SALT LAKE CITY — Deannie Wimmer interviews the surgical director of living donor at the University Hospital about the decision to live tweet a kidney transplant.

“It’s good to educate people that live donation for kidney transplant is very safe,” said Dr. Jeff Campsen. “And if we can show that this is something that we can do routinely and we do well and we do safely, and they can follow the exact steps of that, it’s a good way to educate people in Utah on how we do this.”

Campsen also talks about the the thousands of people nationwide who are waiting for a kidney transplant and the impact of a live transplant donation.

Click the video above to watch the full interview.
Read more at http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=29977199#r0u6zHOoFYzPlCmK.99

Haircuts in American Fork to benfit Local Kidney Transplant family

    Friday, April 25th, 2014

 

Relik

Need a haircut in American Fork this Saturday?

When:   Saturday April 26th from 5-9 pm
 Where:   Relik Salon and Spa,  61 W Main Street American Fork Utah

What:     Relik Salon in American Fork is holding a cut-a-thon.

Why:      ‘Free’ haircuts “With Donation.” All funds will be given to a local family struggling paying back medical debt after a kidney transplant.

Contact Mallory:      malmalfrog@yahoo.com / 801-372-2973

 

 

 

Curious about becoming a Kidney Donor? Or donating a Kidney Kar/Car in Utah or Idaho for a tax deduction?

    Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

http://www.yesutah.org/donations/kidney.php

yes utah

The Living Kidney Donation Program

Both adults and children suffer from kidney failure and are now, or will soon be, in need of a transplant. People in need have been receiving transplants from family and friends and from deceased donors for many years, but there aren’t enough kidneys to help everyone. In order to increase the kidneys available for transplant and to lessen the suffering of those waiting, Intermountain Donor Services (IDS) and the area’s transplant centers have formed the Living Kidney Donation Program to increase the number of kidneys available for transplant. 

 

Good Samaritan Living Kidney Donation

Good Samaritan donors are living donors who do not know the recipient, but make their donation purely out of selfless motives. This type of donation is also referred to as anonymous or non-directed donation. Recipients are those at the top of the local wait list. 

 

Kidney Paired Donation

A paired donation consists of two donors who are incompatible with their intended recipients. The two recipients swap donors so that each can receive a compatible kidney. Once the evaluations of all donors and recipients are completed, the two donations and transplants are scheduled simultaneously. 

 

Kidney List donation

Kidney list donation can result when a live donor is incompatible with the intended recipient, and so donates to the wait list. In return, the intended recipient receives priority and advances on the wait list, receiving a kidney much more quickly; often the next available appropriate kidney. 

 

How do I know if I can be a living donor?

Any healthy individual who has two kidneys and who is between the ages of 21 and 65 can potentially donate one kidney. In order to determine elegibility, a person must undergo a health evaluation and counseling. A medical history, physical examination, and a number of blood and urine tests are performed to determine health. Blood type, which must be compatible with that of the recipient, is also determined. Counseling is provided to ensure that every person considering kidney donation understands the surgery, the risks involved, and the recovery period. 

 

Can I live with one kidney?

Almost everyone is born with two kidneys. After donating a kidney, a person can live a normal, long and healthy life. The remaining kidney grows bigger and simply takes over for both kidneys. 

 

What are the risks?

No surgery is without risk. However, living kidney donation is very safe for healthy individuals. Nearly fifty years of research show that kidney donors have a normal life expectancy and lead normal lives. Extensive testing is done to ensure that kidney donation carries a minimal risk for potential donors. Some of the possible risks associated with any surgery are:

Bleeding
Infection
Pneumonia
Blood clotting
Reactions to anesthesia

The risk of dying from any surgical complication is extremely small (perhaps two in 10,000). All potential donors will have the opportunity to discuss these risks with the surgical team performing the operation. 

 

Life-long considerations

Donating a kidney does not increase the risk of future health problems or decrease life expectancy. However, every living donor should be aware that if something happens to the one remaining kidney, such as a severe traumatic injury or cancer, then kidney function could be compromised. 

 

How long will the surgery take?

Typically, the preparation and the surgery itself take four to six hours. After recovering from anesthesia, donors can go to their hospital rooms. Although every donor is different, recovery should be uneventful. Feeling tired is an expected reaction to the surgery and anesthetic. There is pain lasting from a few days to several weeks as the muscles around the incision heal. Pain medications are prescribed and taken as necessary. The discomfort gradually decreases as the incision heals and physical activity is resumed. 

 

Time and resources

It is common to take two to six weeks off from work to recover from surgery. IDS and the transplant programs provide no compensation for this time lost. Potential donors should contact their employers to see if paid leave would be provided for this absence. 

 

Who pays for the donor’s medical evaluation, surgery, hospitalization and follow-up care?

Medicare or the recipient’s insurance pays for all medical costs for the donor’s medical evaluation, surgery, hospitalization, anesthesia, doctor’s fees, and follow-up care. However, all other costs, such as transportation and time lost from work, are not typically reimbursed. 

 

Why living donation?

Patients who need kidney transplants have always been encouraged to find their living donors, usually a relative or close friend. The success rate is better and the waiting time is shorter than for cadaver kidneys (kidneys from people who have died). However, due to medical, personal or matching issues, sometimes it is not possible for family or friends to donate. There is often a long waiting time and ultimately not enough cadaver kidneys to provide for everyone in need. Living Kidney donation increases the number of kidneys available to those waiting for transplants. With enough Living Kidney donors, the waiting list for kidney transplants could be completely eliminated. 

For more information on kidney donation, please contact us at
livingdonations@yesutah.org.

 

Becoming a Living Kidney Donor

Step 1: Review all the material about living kidney donation found at this website.

Step 2: Contact IDS byemail or phone (801-521-1755) to express interest in kidney donation.

Step 3: Complete and return a medical/social history form. Once the form has been returned to IDS, you will be asked to meet with a donation coordinator to discuss the process of donation in more detail.

Step 4: After making the decision to donate a kidney, you will be referred to one of the area’s transplant centers, LDS Hospital or University of Utah Hospital, for a thorough evaluation.

Step 5: Medical and psychological evaluations will be completed, and you will be matched with a recipient. Your donor surgery and the transplant will be scheduled at time appropriate to both you and the recipie

 

March Is National Kidney Month: Let’s Get Back to Basics

    Wednesday, March 5th, 2014


Print

Kidney Disease kills more people each year than breast and prostate cancer combined. Yes, you read that statistic correctly, but you may be surprised by it. While the majority of Americans can recite the common tests for breast and prostate cancer, not many know very much about kidney disease, including its risk factors and the tests for detecting it. March is National Kidney Month and March 13 is World Kidney Day. In honor of these observances, show your kidneys some love by learning more about these sophisticated organs and what you can do to keep yours healthy.

So let’s start by getting back to basics, breaking down the who, what, where, when and how when it comes to the kidneys.

The Who: Who needs to be concerned about the kidneys and kidney disease? In an ideal world, everyone would have their kidneys on their radar, but the one in three American adults at risk for kidney disease definitely should be concerned about their kidneys. Those who fall in this category include people with the major risk factors for kidney disease: high blood pressure, diabetes, family history of kidney failure and being over age 60. Even if you aren’t at high risk for kidney disease, everyone can benefit from learning more about the kidneys and keeping them healthy.

The What: The kidneys! Consider this the extremely abridged version of Kidney 101. Most people are born with two kidneys, but you only need one. The kidneys filter 200 liters of blood every single day, keeping the blood minerals in balance by removing toxins, wastes and water. This is the job the kidneys are most known for, but did you know that the kidneys have many other responsibilities? The kidneys also help regulate blood pressure, regulate fluid levels, control the production of red blood cells, and activate vitamin D for strong, healthy bones. When the kidneys fail, people must go on dialysis or receive a kidney transplant to survive. Unlike most other organs, because you only need one kidney, one of your kidneys can be donated while still living.

The Where: Where are these kidneys located after all? The kidneys are situated in your lower back just below the rib cage. They are the size of your fist and weigh about five ounces.

The When: If you’re at risk for kidney disease, it’s important to get your kidneys checked during your annual physical. The National Kidney Foundation’s mascot, Sidney the Kidney, even has a music video to help inspire you to get tested. Be sure to speak up and request these two simple tests to check for kidney disease:

  • A urine test for albumin, a type of protein. Protein in the urine is one of the earliest signs of kidney damage. When there is too much protein in the urine, it means that the kidneys’ filters have been damaged and are starting to leak protein.
  • A blood test for creatinine. Creatinine is a waste product (from muscle metabolism) that is removed by the kidney. Creatinine level is used to calculate your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR). The eGFR reflects how well the kidneys are filtering wastes from the blood.

The How: Testing and prevention go hand-in-hand and knowing how to keep your kidneys healthy is an important element of preventing kidney disease. Following a healthy lifestyle is key to keeping the kidneys healthy! This includes exercising regularly, eating healthy foods and avoiding consuming high levels of salt and sodium, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting (or never even starting) smoking, controlling high blood pressure and diabetes and only taking pain medications as prescribed on the label — for the shortest amount of time possible, at the lowest effective dose.

For more information about the kidneys and kidney disease, visit the National Kidney Foundation’s website at www.kidney.org.

Did you know that high blood pressure and diabetes are two of the main risk factors for kidney disease? If you have either of these, what are you doing to protect your kidneys? Share in the comments below. Happy National Kidney Month!

Follow Leslie Spry, M.D., FACP on Twitter: www.twitter.com/spryguymd

Sydney the Kidney Gearing up for March is Kidney Month.

    Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

 

 

sydney the kidney

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2U2iZQxkqI

Realtor organizes Christmas gifts for 193 sick Utah kids

    Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

http://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/realtor-organizes-christmas-gifts-for-kids/article_b5216841-2cfd-58cc-8759-87cf0556bad5.html

kidney kids photo

Cathy Allred – Daily Herald(0) Comments
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Jimmy Rex provides Christmas to kids 2013

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OREM — Realtor Jimmy Rex has a goal sheet that is nothing short of miraculous should he achieve them all — taking a trip to outer space, making a hole in one, saving a life, having a pet penguin, becoming a seminary teacher. The list is extensive.

Rex is achieving something on the extraordinary list that is putting the miracle of Christmas back in the holiday for many children in Utah – by beginning and establishing a charitable foundation.

With $31,000 raised from a silent auction, he and the Rex Realty Team delivered gifts for 193 children and, through a children’s wish foundation, sent a family of nine to Disneyland.

Rex calls it a team, but that team is more like an army, with 150 volunteers striving to do good for kids in the community.

The third year he has organized a charity auction, Rex said this has been their biggest year ever.

“We did a Sub for Santa event this year. This is the third year we did it, and we were able to donate gifts to 193 different kids,” Rex said.

To raise the funding, the Rex Realty Team hosted a silent auction event at the Jump Gym in Orem.

“We had about a 143 people from around the community donate something that we auctioned off,” he said.

The first year, they were hoping to raise $2,000 to $3,000 for Santa. The 2011 event was a date auction with 12 to 15 women and 12 to 15 men auctioning themselves with the date event prepaid for the bidder.

“We had no idea. We ended up raising $9,000 or $10,000. We were just shocked at how well it went,” Rex said.

The following year was bigger and better, with big names like BYU athletes Cody Hoffman and Brandon Davies. They raised nearly double the total from the first year.

“The reason why we switched it was because I didn’t think we could do better than we did last year,” he said.

Instead, they had a silent auction for a house in Detroit, a timeshare for a houseboat, Blentec blenders, BYU items, spa treatments, firearms and more.

“We had 140 items total, we had kayaks …” he said and then heaved a big sigh. Rex had teams of his army shopping in shifts for kids. Volunteers were also there for wrapping and delivering the presents.

“We really have involved a lot of people. Total man hours, I don’t even want to know,” he said sounding exhausted.

“Just so many people helped. Just one after another stepped up to help out,” he said.

They meet all the families and try to find families that don’t normally ask for help during the holidays but could use it. They also find families that have had a family member diagnosed with cancer recently. This year there are seven of those.

There are also children at the University of Utah Hospital waiting for a kidney transplant that benefit from the Rex Realty Team. The team delivered gifts to the children Monday.

It’s the end result, the joy and the surprise seen on a child’s face that is important to Rex.

“To see that side of it that is what inspires you to want to do it again,” Rex said. “You watch the effect it actually has when they get their presents and the people who really need it, makes it pretty easy to do.”

And while the foundation isn’t registered yet as a 401, there is a side benefit for the Realtor that keeps him going towards that goal.

“As a single guy, it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself around this time of year. It’s just a good way to lose yourself and help other people,” he said.Utah Realtor gives Christmas to sick Utah kids.

Creating a functioning kidney from a 3D printer; Science Fiction or Reality?

    Friday, October 4th, 2013

staying healthy logo

Science Fiction or Reality?  NKF, Staying Healthy Blog

By Dr. Stephen Pastan

Some tiny first steps have been taken in the futuristic drive to create organs “in a test tube”. Scientists in San Diego have use 3D printing techniques to create small conglomerates of cells that form structures resembling liver tissue, and perform some of the biologic functions of livers. These preliminary results were presented at the Experimental Biology meetings this year in Boston.

There have also been news reports that scientists in China have used similar techniques to print a rudimentary kidney, but little is known about the function of these tissue-like conglomerations, and published details are still to come. (See http://gizmodo.com/scientists-can-now-3d-print-transplantable-living-kidn-1120783047.) In a similar vein, scientists at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have created a human “lung on a chip”. These little devices mimic many behaviors of the lung including breathing (see the video here). A recent report by the Harvard researchers published in Science Translational Medicine last year describes using the chip to study toxin-induced pulmonary edema (leaky lungs which fill up with fluid).

Indeed it is likely that the future practical uses of these tiny liver-, kidney- and lung-mimicking collections of cells is to study the effects of damaging substances, such as chemicals, drugs, toxins and radiation.  Tests run on artificially generated organs may be more efficient than those employing animals or human subjects. Whether these technologies could ever create an organ that can be used to replace a human liver, kidney or lung remains a distant future wish; in my opinion that is likely to be decades away, even if “printing organs” proves to be a viable technology. Stay tuned.

Dr. Stephen Pastan is a member of the National Kidney Foundation’s Board of Directors. He is also Medical Director of the Kidney and Pancreas Transplant program at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

Shining the Light on Kidney Disease, by Dr. Spry

    Monday, September 9th, 2013

As a long-time practicing physician, I am well-versed on the perils of kidney disease — both academically and anecdotally — so anytime I come across new research urging people to pay attention to the kidneys and kidney disease, I feel compelled to spread the word. Most people know very little about kidney disease, and it’s time for a light bulb moment (and not just a flicker), especially in light of new research that just came out in the National Kidney Foundation’s American Journal of Kidney Diseases.

The American Journal of Kidney Diseases report found that the lifetime risk of moderate — or worse — kidney disease was 59 percent, a risk that outstrips invasive cancer or diabetes. Talk about an eye-opener. As a result of this new research, the National Kidney Foundation recommended that all Americans over 60 should be screened as part of an annual physical. Around the same time this research came out, another group estimated that the government’s tab for treating kidney disease was close to $60 billion. No, that “b” wasn’t a typo.

Taken together, these separate announcements about the scope of kidney disease represent a clarion call to action: We, as a society, need to take kidney disease — which kills more Americans than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined — seriously, or the human and financial costs may become unbearable.

Kidney disease isn’t a hot topic. It’s hard to see and “feel,” particularly at the early stages, and it tends to prey on those whose health is already vulnerable, such as those with diabetes or high blood pressure and seniors. Some even chalk kidney disease up to “an inevitable part of aging” and just ignore it. But that is a naïve and dangerous view.

Kidney disease is significantly underdiagnosed. Screening is cheap, simple and non-invasive: A doctor only needs to perform a quick urine test for excess protein (albuminuria). Usually invisible to the human eye, too much protein in the urine is one of the earliest signs of kidney damage. Unlike colonoscopies or other expensive (and invasive) health screening tests, on average this lifesaving urine test costs less than a tank of gas, but despite its low cost, there’s a widespread lack of testing, even for those at greatest risk. The earlier kidney disease is recognized, the easier it is to treat. Sometimes, simple lifestyle interventions are even enough to keep the disease from progressing.

The kidney is an incredible organ. Kidneys process waste in the bloodstream, produce key hormones and help the body regulate everything from blood pressure (by controlling sodium levels) to muscle-building (by controlling protein absorption). The kidneys wear many hats and unfortunately many people take them for granted until they aren’t working properly. Risk for kidney disease can be reduced by properly managing conditions that damage the kidneys — such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle and avoiding medications that can harm the kidneys. Once the kidneys are damaged, they begin to work less effectively, and eventually if the kidneys fail, treatment requires a transplant or dialysis. Kidney disease also puts patients at increased risk of heart disease.

But ignoring the kidneys, or assuming that there’s nothing that can be done to prevent kidney disease and its progression, fails not only patients who already have the disease, but everyone else at risk. Kidney disease is not a tragic, untreatable disease. We have many tools at our fingertips to combat it, from dietary interventions to improved treatment of high blood pressure and diabetes. But we can’t use those tools if we don’t know who has suffered kidney damage. One easy way to find out is by speaking up and encouraging your primary care provider to perform this simple urine test for albuminuria. Take this handy kidney checklist with you on your next doctor’s visit and share it with your friends and family.

If you’re over 60, or if you have a family history of kidney failure, diabetes or heart disease, please get screened for protein in your urine during your next annual physical. And don’t stop there. Reduce your risk by controlling blood pressure and blood sugar, maintaining proper weight, stopping smoking, exercising regularly and avoiding excessive use of medications that can harm the kidneys, such as ibuprofen and naproxen.

Widespread awareness is not built overnight (after all, it took Thomas Edison some time to distribute electricity) but let’s at least start by turning on our own lights. Because unlike the fictitious monster under your bed, when it comes to your kidney health, sometimes what you can’t see can hurt you.

Have questions about this research or the new recommendations? Just ask in the comment section below.

For more from Leslie Spry, M.D., FACP, click here.

For more on personal health, click here.

Follow Leslie Spry, M.D., FACP on Twitter: www.twitter.com/spryguymd