By Kathy Gaillard
When Walter Cook was 15 years old and weighed in at only 106 pounds, one of the ‘church mothers’ pulled his mother aside and suggested she take him to the doctor to determine why he wasn’t growing. That doctor’s visit probably saved Cook’s life. His mother was informed that both her son’s kidneys had shut down and he immediately started dialysis.
“I began going for dialysis three days a week— Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays—for three hours each day,” Cook said. “My schedule was routine: I would get up, go to school, and in between the next two periods, I went for dialysis. I kept that schedule until the 11th grade when I enrolled in a work-study program at Vincent High School. Then I started attending school half a day, going for dialysis, then going to work.”
For 15 years, Cook was on dialysis until he received a kidney transplant on Nov. 24, 2006. Today, he is well. He weighs in at 146 pounds and works full-time as a security guard. He joked that, after recovering from his kidney transplant surgery, he took three back-to-back cruises—something he previously was unable to do because of dialysis.
According to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), more than 37 million American adults are living with kidney disease and— as in Cook’s case—most don’t know it. Moreover, Blacks have higher rates of kidney failure than any other ethnic group. In fact, they are three to four times more likely to have kidney failure than white Americans. Blacks also constitute more than 35% of all patients in the U.S. receiving dialysis for kidney failure, but only represent 13.2% of the overall U.S. population.
Dialysis has been used since the 1940s to treat people with kidney problems. The kidneys filter blood by removing waste and excess fluid from the body. This waste is sent to the bladder to be eliminated during urination. Dialysis performs the function of the kidneys if they’ve failed. According to the NKF, end-stage kidney failure occurs when the kidneys are performing at only 10% to 15% of their normal function.
Even when there are physical signs of kidney disease, people often attribute them to other conditions. Also, those with kidney disease tend not to experience symptoms until the late stages or when there are large amounts of protein in the urine. Without dialysis, salts and other waste products will accumulate in the blood, poison the body and damage other organs.
Julia Means, RN, an Ascension parish nurse who works at Ebenezer Church of God in Christ, lauds Cook’s progress. She proactively works with parishioners to educate them about health care.
“Prior to ObamaCare, we had a free clinic at Ebenezer. In my role as parish nurse, I do a lot of screenings, health education and visiting the sick. Walter Cook is a longtime member of our congregation and I’m really proud of him,” Means said.
While the only way to know for sure if someone has kidney disease is to get tested, likely predictors of the disease are high blood pressure, diabetes, a family history of kidney failure or individuals older than age 60. It’s important to get tested annually for kidney disease. Some of the common signs of kidney disease are nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue and weakness, sleep problems, changes in the amount of urine, decreased mental sharpness, swelling of feet and ankles, chest pain, shortness of breath and high blood pressure.
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