|BY JAMES WRIGHT|
|THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2010|
|One of the District’s most prominent politicians will host an organ donation drive and celebration at a local Northwest hospital to educate Blacks about becoming active transplant donors, Sat., Feb. 20.|
D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) successfully underwent a kidney transplant on Feb. 20, 2009 at Howard University Hospital. In recognition of his one-year anniversary, Barry will host a donation campaign drive and celebration at the hospital that’s free and open to the public.
The event will be sponsored by his organization: the Marion Barry Kidney Transplant and Diabetes Foundation. Kim Dickens, a close friend of Barry’s donated one of her kidneys to help prolong his life. Since that time, it’s been relatively smooth sailing for the 73-old-politician.
“My overall health has been good since the transplant. For 20 years, I have been battling diabetes and high blood pressure and that is why my kidney was not good,” Barry said.
“The last 10 years, my diabetes caused renal failure and I had to go on dialysis.”
Barry disliked dialysis and said that it caused other medical complications. He decided to go the kidney transplant route, but ran into a problem.
“I have a sister who would have been a good match, but she is [also] a diabetic,” Barry said.
“Because of that, I needed someone who was healthy and was willing to give up their kidney.”
Barry asked Dickens to donate one of her kidneys and she immediately said yes. The two were tested at Howard University Hospital and learned that they were a match.
“She was perfect as far as blood type and other things,” he said.
“We were going to have the procedure performed on Dec. 19  but I wanted to participate in my swearing-in ceremony in January.”
Statistics from the National Kidney Foundation indicate that more than 26 million Americans live with diseases of the kidney and the urinary tract and are completely unaware. Diabetes, which affects nearly 24 million Americans, is the leading cause of kidney failure in the nation, accounting for one-third of new cases diagnosed each year.
The foundation reports that there are currently 78,000 candidates waiting for a kidney transplant. In 2008, it reported that only 16,514 transplants were performed. Statistics compiled by the foundation state that about 17 people die each day waiting for an organ such as a heart, lung or kidney.
The Washington area leads the nation in kidney disease with more than 700,000 people affected, nearly 6,000 patients on dialysis and more than 1,600 waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant.
The doctors at Howard University Hospital, who performed Barry’s operation were led by famed organ transplant specialist Dr. Clive Callender, who is the head of the hospital’s transplant center. Callender, in his own right an activist for organ donation, has quoted statistics saying that while 13 percent of the population is Black, 35 percent of those waiting for a transplant are African American.
The operation was a success and Barry was released on Feb. 27. The four-term mayor returned to the hospital on March 2 for complications due to the prescribed medication for the kidney.
He was treated and released on March 6.
Barry said that while his health is fine, there are a few minor ailments that he has to deal with.
“There are times that I feel lethargic and I do get a headache sometimes,” he said.
One of the reasons Barry said that Dickens—47-years-old at the time of the operation -- was a good match was because of her lifestyle.
“Kim exercises a lot and is a vegetarian,” he said.
“That was good on her part because she could go through the procedure without any medical problems and she was healthy enough to endure the transplant.”
The transplant caused Barry to change his diet.
“I eat no pork or beef and I have restricted my sweets,” he said.
“I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and fish. I rarely eat fast food but I do have a couple of pieces of fried chicken every once in a while,” the former mayor said.
Barry’s message to African Americans is to watch what they ingest and to become more physically active.
“Blacks need to eat healthy,” he said. “We have the worse diet. That is why so many of us are obese and have high blood pressure,” he said.
“We don’t diet and exercise the way we should. We don’t go to the gym and we don’t walk.”
Barry said that television does not encourage healthy living and that the school system does not serve nutritious meals to the students.
D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) has a bill, Healthy Foods Act of 2009, which was introduced last year. The bill would mandate that healthy food be served to D.C. public school students through the use of local produce and school gardens.
Barry supports Cheh’s legislation. Some of the students that he sees on the streets of Southeast who attend Ballou High School are, he says, too fat and the bill will help remedy that problem.
He said that living a healthier lifestyle will extend Blacks’ life spans, as well.
“On average, Black men die eight years younger than White men. The same with Black women: Black women die seven years younger than White women,” Barry said.
“Some of this is hereditary and I understand that. A lot of that though is Black people eating better foods and living healthier lives.”
Health concerns are not new to Barry. Fourteen years ago, he underwent a successful operation to combat prostate cancer. Since then he has become an advocate of Black men being tested on a regular basis for the disease.
Barry said that he feels blessed in many ways because of the transplant experience and wants others to understand how important it is to be a donor.
“Even though I suffer from diabetes, I have not had to have an amputation and I do not have glaucoma. As a matter of fact, my vision is 25 over 20. God has been good to me,” he said.
“People can live a healthy life with one kidney. You can’t take it to heaven with you. Donate a kidney and save a life,” Barry said with a smile.