Spotlight on kidney disease

Actor Danny Glover leads 200 people during a walk at the Inner Harbor

Increasing awareness also goal

March 31, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Sheila Parsons is a big fan of actor Danny Glover and stood in line to get his autograph yesterday. But she wasn't braving frigid, wet conditions at the Inner Harbor just for him, and he wasn't there promoting a new movie.

Both participated in Maryland's first Kidney Walk at Rash Field, an event organized by the National Kidney Foundation that drew about 200 people. Some of them, such as Parsons, are suffering from kidney disease and awaiting transplants.

"You are truly, truly the faithful out here," Glover said, addressing the crowd huddled beneath a wooden pagoda, before the walk. He arrived at the event straight off a flight from Oakland, Calif., and plans to tour area dialysis centers today.

As the national spokesman for Anemia LifeLine, Glover, 55, led walks last year that he said helped get the word out about kidney disease and anemia.

"The unsung heroes of the walk are the people who came out and walked and inspired me," he said. "Some of you are here in honor of someone they've lost. I'm here because I lost my dad to kidney failure."

Glover's father, James, suffered from kidney disease for six years and died last summer. While he was on dialysis, he was able to lead an active life. Then he began to sleep more and exhibit signs of depression. Doctors diagnosed his condition as anemia.

Anemia occurs when the body does not produce enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to the body's organs and tissues. It can cause significant fatigue, weakness and can even damage the heart.

"The earlier you are diagnosed and treated, the more your life is enhanced and the possibility of living longer is there," said Glover, whose organization seeks to raise awareness of anemia.

Best known for his portrayal of Roger Murtaugh in four Lethal Weapon movies, Glover is also an activist for civil rights, for ending the death penalty and for peace -- most recently at an anti-war rally in New York and in January at a Johns Hopkins Medicine event.

"You'll be feeling like it's 80 degrees by the time we finish this walk!" Glover said to the walkers before he took off at a brisk pace for a lap around Rash Field, most of the time with a group of children and teens on his heels. Some walkers took out the socks in their giveaway bags and put them on their hands as makeshift mittens.

Most were in good spirits despite the mix of rain, snow and sleet, which prompted organizers to shorten the three-mile walk to about a half-mile. Some of the walkers said it was important to come out to let people know what they could do to help those with kidney disease.

"I would never have said `no' to being here. This is personal for me. This is me," said Parsons, 42, who has been on dialysis for a year. She walked with Robin Mandley, 47, who is donating a kidney to her. The two met through their church, the Unity Center of Christianity in downtown Baltimore.

"I knew Sheila was sick and I'm well," Mandley said. "I just wanted to give her a gift. I felt no apprehension, no fear. This is something God wants me to do."

Dr. Ed Kraus, a transplant nephrologist at Johns Hopkins, said their case should be an example for others.

"Live donations are possible," he said. "We will not hurt someone to help someone else."

Another walker, Diane Koelbel, 56, said she hopes for a transplant for her son Kristopher, 30, of Woodbine. Diane's husband, Rich, died from cancerous cysts on his kidneys a year and a half ago. It's a genetic condition that was passed to her son, who is on dialysis and on a waiting list for a kidney.

"I feel like I'm in limbo," he said. His immediate family's blood type doesn't match his, so he is unable to take their kidneys even though they're all willing to donate.

Last year, more than 1,600 people were on waiting lists for kidneys in Maryland with only 249 donors. Seventy-four of those donors had died. One in nine adults in the United States -- 20 million -- has chronic kidney disease.

"You only need one kidney," said Dr. Tessie Behrens, chairwoman of the medical advisory board for the foundation. "It's a very easy procedure where all of our donors are carefully screened."

The goal of the walk was to raise money as well as awareness, said Raquel McGuire, the executive director of the Maryland affiliate of the National Kidney Foundation. She said that her organization expected to raise about $15,000 from yesterday's event.

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