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Fighting Kidney Disease is a Battle Worth Waging

Published in the Barefoot Tattler

A few weeks ago, on Mother’s Day weekend, hundreds of residents from all over Central Florida gathered at Cocoa Beach Pier to participate in the seventh annual Cocoa Beach Kidney Walk to raise awareness and show their support for loved ones suffering from kidney disease. Katie and I have participated every year since the walk was first organized in 2012 by Rich Salick, Bill Hahn and volunteers with the Florida Chapter of the National Kidney Foundation.

The kidney walk is important because raising awareness is a key component to combating this disease and ultimately saving lives. According to the National Kidney Foundation, nearly one in three adults is at-risk of developing kidney disease and almost 30 million Americans have kidney disease and many don’t even know it. It sneaks up on you but can be treated when it’s detected early.

This year organizers of the kidney walk recognized organ donors and their families for giving the precious gift of life so that others could receive a second chance and continue with their lives. The truth is that patients faced with life on dialysis can't lead productive lives. It’s very hard on the body and the spirit. As a result, most activities, including holding down a stable job, are completely out of the question. That’s why they call organ donation the “gift of life.”

In Congress, we have been working to advance several pieces of legislation to help fight kidney disease and raise the quality of life for patients. One important proposal that I have cosponsored creates demonstration programs for early diagnosis of chronic kidney disease. Another priority is the Living Donor Protection Act, which will end many forms of insurance discrimination facing living donors and extend job security through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to those who donate an organ.

We are also working on legislation to ensure that kidney transplant patients have lifelong access to immunosuppressive medications. Having access to these drugs will allow patients to lead productive lives and save costs. Currently Medicare will cover the cost of the transplant surgery, along with the cost of dialysis, but severely limits the coverage of the immunosuppressive drugs needed to stave off rejection. This is a self-defeating policy that lacks common sense because the cost of dialysis is far greater than the cost of the drugs.

Throughout my years of public service I have participated in many efforts to shape and reform public policy, but few are as great and rewarding, as the battles fought to help save lives. So many of us have family, friends and loved ones who are fighting disease or struggling with a serious medical condition and they need our strength and support. The road ahead may not be easy for them, but as the kidney walk demonstrates, they do not have to travel that path alone.

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