Advocacy | Dialysis | Kidney disease | Patient stories

A Holiday Reflection on Family and the Ongoing Fight for Kidney Health

December 15, 2023, 1:40pm EST

Sharon Pearce's Aunt Dot smiling

By Sharon Pearce, SVP Government Relations

Sharon Pearce, the Senior Vice President of Government Relations at the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), shares her cherished Christmas memories about her Aunt Dot, who later faced challenges with kidney disease. From heartfelt reflections to advocacy victories, this narrative offers a poignant insight into Sharon's dedication and ongoing efforts at NKF to improve the lives of individuals impacted by kidney disease, all in remembrance of her Aunt Dot.

Remembering Aunt Dot

Christmas mornings were an exercise in patience in our household.  Like most children, my sister and I would wake at the crack of dawn, scamper out to the living room to find a mass of gifts under the tree, and go about the sorting, shaking, and counting of presents.  But the opening would have to wait until a more reasonable hour when my Aunt Dot would arrive in her blue Chevy Nova.

Aunt Dot was my grandfather’s sister and was really the primary grandparent type in our lives. A kindergarten teacher of 40 years, she taught us to read, did puzzles with us, and always made room for us on her soft, comfortable, Estee Lauder-scented lap. She would babysit us when we were sick, feeding us Campbell’s soup while we watched The Price is Right and As the World Turns.  Some of my fondest memories of childhood are snuggling on her lap, playing with the gold watch necklace she used to wear, or idling with the coloring books she brought with her to every family occasion.

As I grew into a gawky teen, Aunt Dot’s health started to fail.  The diabetes that had plagued her as she aged slowly impaired her eyesight – she had to give up her beloved Nova - chronic infections led to an amputation, and ultimately, her kidneys failed.  She spent the final years of her life shuttling back and forth to dialysis, with frequent stays in the hospital and nursing home.  It was difficult to watch as a teenager and is still difficult to think about now, 35+ years later.

Honoring Aunt Dot’s memory with a promise of change

When I started at NKF, I was struck by how little things have changed since Aunt Dot’s days.  The treatments for kidney failure – dialysis or transplant – are more or less the same as they were in 1987.  The default setting of care is still in-center dialysis.  And her patient experience – dialysis, illness, failing health – is still all too common for the 800,000 Americans with kidney failure.

But there are areas of promise.  While there’s still an awareness gap – 90 percent of people with kidney disease don’t know they have it – NKF is making steady progress on that front with our “Are You the 33%?” campaign, our efforts to train primary care clinicians about CKD diagnosis and management, and our investments in innovation and equity.

Are you a part of the 33%? Take the quiz to find out.

Better yet, there are several new drugs that are highly effective at treating the vicious circle of heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes that cost too many Americans their health and their lives. NKF is fighting to make sure that patients have access to these drugs – and at a price they can afford.

Ensure patients have access to the medications they need.

From a policy standpoint, lawmakers are committed to improving the lives of kidney patients, as evidenced by our 2023 advocacy successes.  That last part is thanks to the incredible commitment and support of our kidney advocates – the patients, care partners, living donors, family members, friends, and other loved ones who lend their time, energy, and passion to the National Kidney Foundation to help us advocate for a better future.

This holiday season, I don’t have to wait to open my gift because my gift is working for you all every day. Thank you for trusting NKF to advocate for kidney patients so that we can save lives, eliminate preventable kidney disease, accelerate innovation, and improve equity in kidney care, dialysis, and transplantation. 

A joyous holiday season to you all.

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