| Dialysis | Kidney disease | Patient stories | Transplant

Empowering Communities: Improving Kidney Health in New England

January 23, 2024, 8:36am EST

Group of volunteers at the 2023 Boston Kidney Walk

Donna Nickerson, Executive Director of the National Kidney Foundation Serving New England, is on a mission to understand and improve kidney health in her community. 

Her goal is to make sure everyone understands their kidney health and has the tools to live their healthiest life. With the help of her team, community partnerships, and amazing advocates they’ve been doing just that!

Identifying risk factors

Donna’s team conducted an in-depth study with partner hospitals in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine to discover their priorities and community-specific challenges. 

“It's not a one-size-fits-all approach," said Donna. "Understanding the risk factors unique to each community is crucial for effective intervention. Our goal is to tailor our programs at the local level to address the specific needs of the diverse populations we serve."

The study revealed that high blood pressure, diabetes, and age were the primary risk factors for kidney disease in their area. It also found that language and lack of education were the biggest barriers to treatment.

“By understanding our community’s needs, we can create strategies for education and awareness,” said Donna. “We can better provide comprehensive programs that support people along the entire journey from awareness of kidney disease, treatment, transplant, and more.”

Are you at risk of kidney disease? Take this one-minute quiz to find out.

Making a plan of action

March Honors Event in New England

Many people aren’t aware of what the kidneys are, how to keep them healthy, or how to get them tested. NKF New England office is determined to change this.

“People need to learn about their kidney function early. That’s where we start. Then they can slow the progression of kidney disease or the risk factors that cause it.” Donna said. “We hope to help people delay a need for dialysis with programs around healthy habits, obesity, and heart function.”

For those who already have kidney failure, Donna’s team is there to give them the resources to navigate dialysis and work toward a transplant.

“There are a lot of steps involved in getting a transplant. You have to get evaluated, listed, and show you have the financial and personal means to get the surgery,” said Donna. “A lot goes into life after a transplant as well. There are follow-up appointments, medications to take, and new diets to consider.” 

No matter where you are in your kidney journey, NKF is here to help. Visit the Kidney Learning Center to find the course that best fits your needs.

Community partnerships

Filming a cable TV program in Haitian Creole about kidney health

While educational programs are important, they aren’t useful if they don’t reach people. Donna and her team partnered with various organizations to ensure these important messages got out there. 

“We partnered with the Haitian community to run a cable TV program in Haitian Creole. This educated the audience about kidney disease and its risk factors. Patients were able to call in for answers from physicians in either Haitian or English,” said Donna. “We partner with radio stations and hospitals to do similar programs in Spanish.”

They also teach NKF’s First Steps to Transplant course to patients at over 200 dialysis and nephrology centers. People who take this course learn how to get on the transplant waitlist and stay there until a kidney becomes available. In the future, Nickerson and her team hope to run these programs in more languages.

“We need education in all the languages spoken by our community.” Donna said, “Our next step is to create this education in Portuguese and Chinese. We plan to continue translating resources in more languages over time.”

For now, NKF New England will continue doing everything in their power to better the lives of people. 

Want to work alongside people like Donna? Find and get involved with your local NKF Office. They can’t wait to welcome you into the NKF family.

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