By Laura Mildenberger, Chief People Officer, DaVita
Ten years ago, Valinda Jones was a busy African-American woman with moderately high blood pressure. She was also a labor and delivery nurse with thirty-five years of medical experience. Devoted to her family and career, Jones was always on the go, but a lot of the time, she was tired.
In fact, Jones estimates that she experienced serious fatigue for more than a decade. But as she told her nephrologist, “I was a nurse, working two jobs and a single mother. I thought I was supposed to be tired.”
Unfortunately, the loss of protein in her urine and the fatigue were messages from Jones’ body: her kidneys were slowly failing. Despite the fact that she was a nurse, Jones had no idea her very life was at risk until she was in crisis and her kidney function could not be saved.
Back then, Jones didn’t know that high blood pressure and diabetes are the two leading causes of kidney failure. She also didn’t know that being African American put her at four times the risk of kidney disease as her white counterparts.
So for five long years, Jones was on peritoneal dialysis—a home dialysis option that filters the blood of toxins and excess fluids, which is normally the kidneys’ job.
“Dialysis isn’t easy,” said Jones. “I’m grateful every day that it saved my life, and I’m grateful for the amazing care I received, but in some ways life began again when I got my kidney transplant.”
Many people of color have no idea they are at greater risk for kidney disease. African Americans are four times more likely to face kidney disease than their white counterparts; Hispanic Americans are twice as likely, and Native Americans and people of Asian or Pacific Islander descent also have an elevated risk for chronic kidney disease (CKD).
Kidney disease is epidemic in our country; unfortunately, it’s a silent epidemic. One in ten U.S. adults has kidney disease and most don’t know it.
There are usually few or no symptoms in the early stages of CKD. It is typically not until the late stages of CKD that noticeable changes occur. Some of these symptoms may include high blood pressure; regularly feeling tired, dizzy, or nauseated; swelling in your feet, hands, or face; back pain; or a change in how often you go to the bathroom.
An initial diagnosis of kidney disease typically involves a simple blood test that allows the physician to calculate the level of kidney function or glomerular filtration rate. DaVita’s Chief Medical Officer Allen Nissenson urges African Americans and any patient with diabetes or high blood pressure to ask their doctor for this test, which is often not included in a standard annual evaluation.