Kidney Foundation diversifying

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After launching its “Kidney Cars” program in 1991, the National Kidney Foundation of North Carolina received 35,000 donated cars that it sold for $11 million.

But in January 2005, concerned that donors might be inflating the value of cars to get bigger tax deductions, Congress limited the deductions.

In 2005, revenue the Charlotte-based Kidney Foundation generated from donated cars fell $900,000 from $1.6 million the previous year, when that revenue accounted for 70 percent of its budget.

Now, as it expands its focus from late-stage kidney disease to early detection, the foundation is diversifying its annual fundraising and gearing up to launch a capital campaign later this year that could total $3 million.

The foundation also has re-hired Leanne Skipper as its CEO after a two-year stint starting up the national organization’s first regional division, in the Midwest.

Data gathered in recent years shows that 20 million Americans suffer from chronic kidney disease, including one in nine North Carolinians, and that another one in nine North Carolinians are at risk for the disease, Skipper says.

“We’re going to expand our scope of work to help North Carolinians detect chronic kidney disease in its earlier stages to allow them to slow the progression” of the disease, she says.

Roughly 11,000 people throughout the state are undergoing kidney dialysis, with another 2,300 on a waiting list for kidney transplants.

The Kidney Foundation works with 160 dialysis centers throughout the state to provide programs to dialysis patients, who typically visit the clinics three days a week for three to four hours each visit.

Dialysis, which costs $75,000 a year, connects a patient to a machine that functions like a kidney, removing blood from the body, cleaning it and returning it to the body.

Kidney disease disproportionately affects African Americans and Hispanics, says Kristen Reed, director of communications and marketing, with people with diabetes, high-blood pressure and a family history of kidney disease also at risk.

Because dialysis is time-consuming and exhausting, Reed says, the Kidney Foundation provides emergency financial assistance to cover living expenses and transportation to dialysis sessions.

The foundation also offers a discounted medication program for people who do not have prescription-drug coverage.

Formed in 1967 and employing a staff of 10 people in Charlotte and a part-time health-screener in Raleigh, the foundation has focused mainly on the fifth and final stage of kidney disease when the organ fails and a patient undergoes dialysis while awaiting a transplant without which the patient will die.

The average wait for a kidney is two to three years.

The foundation also has provided occasional screenings throughout the state, finding indicators for kidney disease among 59 percent of the 2,800 people screened, Reed says.

Later this year, the foundation will begin a capital campaign to raise money to buy three mobile kidney-screening units that will travel to all 100 counties in the state.

And to diversify its annual fundraising, the foundation will expand its offering of special events, and Skipper will focus on strengthening its board’s fundraising role by recruiting corporate executives.

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