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Black History Month, Act I

Updated: Feb 23

Black and African-Americans are at an increased risk for developing kidney disease. In honor of #BlackHistoryMonth we're featuring some of the patients, trailblazers, and visionaries who are helping to pave the way to better kidney health for all Black and African Americans.

Dr. Velma Scantlebury was the first Black female transplant surgeon in the United States. She faced numerous challenges during her career but her commitment to her patients never waivered. Listen to her remarkable story in her own words.

Legendary NBA Hall-of-Famer Alonzo Mourning was diagnosed with FSGS during the 2000 Summer Olympics while playing with team USA. He took a season off from playing with the Miami Heat to receive a kidney transplant (donated by his cousin!) in 2003. Remarkably, he returned to the NBA in 2004 and even led the Heat to a World Championship in 2006. Since his transplant, Mourning has done his part to spread awareness about organ donation and kidney health. He celebrated 20 years with his kidney in December.

Dr. O.N. Bignall II is a pediatric nephrologist who is passionate about serving his community. The son of Jamaican immigrants in Chattanooga, TN, He's no stranger to overcoming challenges and he brings that experience to every interaction with his young patients. He's a strong advocate for expanding access to care to address the needs of minority and low-income Americans.

Rapper David Rush learned his kidneys weren't functioning properly during high school. By age 24, his kidneys were failing and while his rap career took off, he began dialysis treatments. His older brother Dwaine stepped up to offer him a kidney and the two underwent tranplant surgery in 2010. David is now an outspoken advocate for kidney health and access to portable dialysis treatments. "Black youth and Black adult males and adult women aren't just dying from drugs and guns, we're dying from this stuff too. Let's not forget about that."

Dr. April Kennedy is an HBCU grad and nephrology and hypertension specialist with over 20 years of experience in the medical field. She's a clinical nephrologist with Associates in Nephrology who is passionate about educating her patients and the Black community. She frequently volunteers her free time to speak at NKFI community health talks and educational programs about kidney health, diet, exercise, and more.

Dr. Neil Powe, MD, MPH, MBA is a professor, physician and researcher whose work is primarily focused on kidney disease patient-oriented research, epidemiology, disparities, and outcomes. He united medicine and public health with the goal of saving lives, improving quality of life, and advancing the health of patients and populations affected by kidney disease. He works with diverse populations in his current role at San Francisco General Hospital and is passionate about mentoring young scientists who want to address major problems in health care.

Olympic Gold Medalist and Chicago native Aries Merritt was diagnosed with FSGS (Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis) in 2013. As a world record-holding track and field star, he didn't let kidney disease slow him down. Just four days after winning a bronze medal in Beijing, he flew home to receive a kidney transplant.

Transplant surgeon Dr. Dinee Simpson is the first chief health equity executive at Northwestern Medicine. And it's not the first time she's been the first! She was also Chicago's first Black female transplant surgeon. Shortly after joining the transplant team at Northwestern Medicine, she developed the African American Transplant Access Program. The program aims to increase equitable access to transplantation, address cultural concerns, overcome structural and institutional barriers to care. She's also an NKFI board member!

Musician, actor, and host Nick Cannon was diagnosed with lupus nephrititis (lupus kidney disease) in 2012. Since his diagnosis, he's managed his diet, gotten adequate rest, taken his medication as prescribed, and been an outspoken advocate for the Lupus Foundation of America.

Dr. Paul Crawford, now retired, is a true trailblazer. For over 50 years, he saw patients on Chicago's south side, where there was and is a high need for community nephrologists.

Crystal Gadegbeku, MD, serves as the Chair of the Department of Nephrology within the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute at the Cleveland Clinic Health System. She is actively involved in researching the engagement of diverse populations, with a specific focus on racial and ethnic groups disproportionately affected by kidney disease. Her clinical interests encompass the management of hypertension and cardiovascular disease among patients with chronic kidney disease.

Stand up comedian and actor Tracy Morgan was diagnosed in 1996 with Diabetes Mellitus and had many ups and downs in his battle with the disease. In 2010 he received his kidney transplant from his ex girlfriend.

As a nephrologist and principal investigator for multiple clinical trials in the rare kidney disease space, Dr. Kirk Campbell understands all too well the challenges faced by patients, as he has seen close friends affected by it as well. He is also the Vice Chair for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. He's also an NKF board member.

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