June 2010 - The Lesson: Gary Coleman, African-Americans and Kidney Disease

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In reflecting on the passing of someone we have come to know and love, we often ask ourselves "What gifts or lessons have resulted from this person's life?" Such is the case with the recent passing of Gary Coleman-an actor that many of us enjoyed in his role as Arnold Jackson on the sitcom Diff'rent Strokes. All of the attention paid to the recent death of actor Gary Coleman and his battles with kidney disease, has prompted me to reflect on the problem of kidney disease among African-Americans. I should point out that while Coleman's kidney problems were reportedly due to a congenital (born with) kidney disease that causes the autoimmune destruction and alteration of the kidney, most African-Americans are not born with kidney disease, rather they develop kidney disease as a result of other preventable disorders.

According to the National Kidney Disease Education Program, the facts are grim. African-Americans are nearly four times more likely than Caucasians to develop kidney failure. And even though we only make up 12% of the population, we account for 32 percent of people with kidney failure. About 70% of the new cases are due to high blood pressure and/or diabetes-both disorders that are disproportionately high among African-Americans. In fact, when compared to white men, African-American men, ages 20-29 are 10 times more likely to develop kidney failure due to high blood pressure; African-American men ages 30-39 are about 14 times more likely to develop kidney failure due to high blood pressure. There is very little good news when we look at the statistics.

The bright light in all of this is that unlike Gary Coleman's disorder which was not preventable, kidney disease due to uncontrolled high blood pressure and/or uncontrolled diabetes can be prevented. Keeping blood pressure and blood sugar levels within a healthy range is well worth the effort. This is relatively easy to achieve with a healthy diet, regular exercise, regular visits to your doctor, and if necessary-adhering to prescribed medications to control blood pressure and blood sugar. Moreover, if you are diagnosed early with kidney disease, it can be treated with drugs that can prevent or slow the progression of kidney disease to kidney failure. While regular visits to your doctor and/or adherence to medications may seem like an inconvenience, imagine the inconvenience of having your kidneys fail and having to go for dialysis every 48 hours or waiting months or years for a kidney transplant so that you can stay alive! You get to choose and in this case, the choice is easy to make.For sure, we'll miss Gary Coleman, but the lesson he left regarding the importance of your kidneys won't be lost. In fact, it may be as enduring as his famous line, "What you tallkin' ‘bout Willis?" Rest in peace Gary, and thanks for this very valuable lesson.


With you on your Journey To Wellness....

Dr. Mary S. Harris

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