A Mother's Dream Gives Birth to the National Kidney Foundation

Ada Debold with her husband Harry

Although it was nearly 60 years ago, Paul DeBold vividly remembers the day he came home from school to find policemen flashing badges at his mother. Her crime? Illegally soliciting funds by mail for the fledgling organization she had created to help families whose children were afflicted with nephrosis.

The men in blue were no match for DeBold's mother, Ada, who brought them upstairs to his younger brother Bobby's room, imploring them to take a good look at the swollen face and body. She explained that she was requesting research funds for an incurable disease so that they wouldn't have to go home and see their kids looking like that. Teary-eyed, the policemen put their badges away and left.

(l-r) Bobby and Paul

DeBold's mother launched the National Nephrosis Foundation by convening a meeting in her Tuckahoe, NY, living room in a desperate attempt to save his brother who suffered from the incurable kidney disease. The organization later became the National Kidney Foundation and is today the largest national group dedicated to preventing and treating kidney disease. As the foundation celebrates its 60th anniversary on November 15, DeBold recalls those early days and what his visionary mother managed to accomplish without Google and Facebook.

"Totally on her own, my mother tracked down other parents whose children were suffering from nephrosis, researched the disease and connected with doctors to facilitate information-sharing. She recognized that chronic disease affected whole families who needed support and that professionals needed a forum to discuss research and treatment," says DeBold.

(l-r) Ada and actress Jane Froman

DeBold spent his childhood in and out of relatives' homes, never sure if he'd come home from school to find his brother in the hospital along with his parents. Yet, he tends to see the big picture, focusing on what was gained in terms of an organization that has helped millions, rather than on what was lost.

Although it was too late for DeBold's brother who died at age four while nephrosis (now called nephrotic syndrome) was still a death sentence, his mother's efforts paid off just a few years later when a treatment was discovered that has since saved the lives of thousands. DeBold's mom continued her crusade to help those with all types of kidney diseases, finding spokespeople, including starlet Jane Froman who helped get the word out, and raising funds for research and patient services.

Debold Family today with
NKF President Dr. Bryan Becker

Six decades later, DeBold‘s birthday wish for the National Kidney Foundation is "to continue indefinitely the work that's been done and the accomplishments that have been made in terms of support for patients and families, research into treatments and advocacy for coverage of those treatments."

One thing that hasn't changed, according to DeBold, is the struggle for funding. He's no longer licking stamps for direct mailings or fearful of the local police, but he urges people to give generously online at www.kidney.org/60 for the Foundation's 60th anniversary campaign.

Check out NKF's history and milestones.

Donate to NKF's 60th Anniversary campaign.