American Kidney Fund Celebrity Health Champion Laila Ali Looks for a KO Against Kidney Disease

American Kidney Fund, Celebrity Spokesperson Laila Ali

American Kidney Fund, Celebrity Spokesperson Laila Ali

February 29th was Rare Disease Day and March 1st kicked off Colon Cancer Awareness Month, but I wasn’t aware that March 1st was also Kidney Action Day and that colons share this month with kidneys.  March is National Kidney Month (it’s also National Read Across America Month, yes, March is quite busy).  All of these health issues I have had the good fortune of not having to think of for all of my life, that is up until the past few years when I became part of the Chris4Life Colon Cancer Foundation family, then friends Fabio and Patricia Beggiato fell victim to dealing with Fabio’s strange and misunderstood disease, Mastocytosis, which only recently was diagnosed via a study done at NIH in which Fabio participated.

But kidneys.  I never had thought about my kidneys, or anyone’s kidneys.  Then on March 1st I took the Orange Line to Capitol Hill and entered the Rayburn House Office Building.  That day was the third annual Kidney Action Day, hosted by the American Kidney Fund (AFK).  The event kicked off National Kidney Month by bringing together Congressional leaders, AKF patient-advocates, former boxer Laila Ali, their celebrity spokesperson and other interested parties for a day filled with remarks by Congressional leaders, health screenings and education about how to prevent kidney disease.

Kidney Action Day also served as a way to inform Congressional leaders about kidney disease and the role the government can play in fighting the disease.  In addition, AKF introduced its public education campaign Pair Up and Laila Ali to legislators who can help enhance the resources available to those with kidney disease.

As I walked into the banquet room, I immediately saw Ms. Ali, the statuesque model-like fit gorgeous woman with perfect makeup, a skirt suit and heels.  She was sipping on a large Starbucks iced drink and talking to some guests who weren’t star struck, but rather very admiring and in the process of inquiring about her involvement with AKF and whether she does graduation speeches and so on.

getting my kidney health screening

getting my kidney health screening

Anyone who came to the Kidney Action Day could get a free kidney health screening all it took was a simple prick of the finger.  Then, you moved down the line and found out your numbers.  I, thank goodness, ended up with healthy numbers, thus a healthy kidney.  Had I ever gotten my kidneys screened before? asked the woman pricking my finger.  I said, no, I hadn’t, so I was glad this was an introduction to learning about what good numbers are and the importance of healthy kidneys.  The band-aid they applied was a normal plain one, I immediately saw this as an opportunity for branding: Why is not the AFK logo on the band-aids or maybe a smiley face that says “I got my kidney screened!” like “I voted!” – a badge of honor instead of looking like I had a paper cut.  Next year…hopefully, at the 2013 Kidney Action Day, we’ll see the entire Hill covered with these new pointer finger band-aids.

LaVarne A. Burton, President and CEO of the American Kidney Fund

LaVarne A. Burton, President and CEO of the American Kidney Fund

The program started with LaVarne A. Burton, AFK’s President and CEO making opening remarks, then introducing NeShell Monroe, AFK Patient Advocate who is living with kidney failure.  NeShell, a young attractive woman, sat in a wheelchair and spoke of her experience; that she was a child playing with other kids in the neighborhood one minute and in the hospital the next, as a result of her family noting she was retaining a large amount of fluid.  She’s been living with kidney failure for years.  “Kidney failure affects communities and families,” NeShell said passionately, imploring the room to please get their kidneys screened.  Then we heard from Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), Congressional Kidney Caucus Co-Chair, who with humor, but in all seriousness said that he had never gotten his kidneys screened until much later in life and frankly, it’s not just an older person’s disease.  Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D – TX) spoke next, mentioning that she is former boxer George Foreman’s Congresswoman, who as we all know was Muhammad Ali’s (Laila’s father) nemesis back in the day.  She talked of how Congressman McDermott has been on the floor working hard to help in the area’s of Medicare and Medicaid, but we need to speak openly about health now and talk prevention.  Now is the time to prevent and create solutions, like the Pair Up program. Congressman John Fleming (R-LA), physician and Vice Chair of kidney caucus entered and made a few comments, particularly on the fact that many of the African American community, which was well represented in the room, is a “subset” that is affected by kidney health issues.  Again, it was back to conveying the message of getting screened, Pairing Up to tell a friend, a family member, a co-worker, anyone, to please get screened.

Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA)

Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA)

 

Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D - TX)

Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D - TX)

 

American Kidney Fund, Celebrity Spokesperson Laila Ali,

American Kidney Fund, Celebrity Spokesperson Laila Ali

When Laila Ali took the mic, she spoke with conviction on her involvement with AKF; she had just gotten her own screening right then and there for the first time.  As a fighter, she was proud to be the Celebrity Health Champion and would do what she could to fight the disease. I had a chance to sit down with her one on one (and she is really quite lovely and well-spoken) and talk with her.  I asked, certainly she has been asked by numerous good causes and charities, there are so many out there, to be their spokesperson, why then did she choose to align with AFK (by the way, AFK helps patients and now is working on prevention, it does not do research)?  Ms. Ali returned with, as her profession is all about health, fitness and wellness, it seemed a natural fit.  She is focused on prevented problems that occur when people reach a state of being overweight and kidney disease is an extension of being unhealthy.  “The numbers are staggering,” she said.  The African American community is affected more so and she herself has family members who have health challenges.  How does she plan on championing this cause? Through Twitter, Facebook, a PSA that was just wrapped up and going out and speaking at any opportunity she can, she told me.

Follow Laila Ali @TheRealLailaAli and on her Facebook Fan Page.  Learn more about American Kidney Fund and Pair Up.

Nine out of 10 people with early kidney disease don’t know they have it.

 

About Pamela Sorensen:
Pamela Lynne Sorensen is the founder of Pamela’s Punch, a leading source of information for the “who, what, when, and where” of Washington, DC’s elite social, professional, and philanthropic scene, which she founded in November of 2006. In 2012 she launched Pacific Punch, based in Los Angeles. Pamela comes from an extensive background in sales and business development from a variety of industries, has been involved with charities and fundraising for a number of years and holds several Board and leadership positions. She currently resides in Arlington, Virginia and when she’s not out on the town, she’s reading or writing while sipping fine wine, or traveling the country and the world ISO adventures, beauty, fun, food, style, libations, music, and the good life. Follow her on Twitter at @pamelaspunch.
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