By Kathleen Doheny
THURSDAY, March 12, 2009 (Health.com) — It's barely past 8 a.m. on World Kidney Day, but funnyman and actor George Lopez is in overdrive, bouncing back and forth from television interviewers to radio remotes to Internet and print reporters, trying to spread the word about the importance of screening for kidney disease.
Nearby, his wife Ann, who donated her kidney when Lopez needed a transplant in 2005, is keeping pace with her own interviews, often stopping to hug a friend or wave hello across the room in between sound bites.
Both are quick with the quip, blending humor with education about the importance of kidney health and screening for kidney disease. Says Ann: "Be nice to your spouse. You never know when you'll need spare parts."
On an early-morning radio interview a few moments earlier, George had urged listeners to come down, get screened, and, he added, have a drink, too.
World Kidney Day took place all around the world today, but this Hollywood version sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation of Southern California had its own unique twist. It was actually held at a bar—Guy's North, a trendy watering hole in Studio City just upstairs from a bowling alley called Pinz, where the din of bowling pins can be heard over the clinking of glasses.
Ann and George Lopez are national spokespeople for the National Kidney Foundation. And dozens of celebrities attended the day’s event—called KEEP (Kidney Early Evaluation Program) it Hollywood—which included free mini-screenings for kidney disease.
Right before Lopez's transplant, Ann recalls, he told her: "I'm not going to be the poster boy for kidney disease.'' But as soon as the procedure was over, George felt so good that he wanted to give back, she says. Ever since, George and Ann have worked tirelessly for the National Kidney Foundation, taking part in World Kidney Day, supporting the foundation's camp for kids, and hosting a celebrity golf classic.
Early detection and prevention are vital, George says. His kidney problem could have been prevented if it had been detected early. He had high blood pressure by age 18, in addition to other symptoms. "My family wasn't one to go to the doctor," he adds. "And it cost me my kidney and almost my life."
Kidney disease affects about 26 million Americans, according to the foundation. And World Kidney Day is meant to raise awareness about the need for more research and for screening. High blood pressure and diabetes are the two leading causes of kidney failure, according to the National Kidney Foundation. When the diseases are treated, however, kidney problems can be avoided or delayed. To preserve kidney health, exercise regularly, eat a low-salt diet, control weight, monitor blood pressure, keep blood sugar and blood cholesterol at healthy levels. Also, don’t smoke, drink moderately (if at all), and get an annual physical, the foundation advises.
At KEEP it Hollywood, celebrities—such as Bryan Dattilo of Days of Our Lives, Kyle Kaplan of 10 Things I Hate About You, Joaquin Pastor of Californication, Nora Kirkpatrick of Transformers, and Josh Sussman of Wizards of Waverly Place—were invited to visit four stations manned by health-care workers. People who got screened were asked about their health history, and had their blood pressure and blood sugar measured and recorded; the final results were reviewed by a physician who looked for signs of kidney disease, which in the early stages can have no symptoms at all.
Later, the public was invited to a free screening. Linda Small, executive director of the National Kidney Foundation of Southern California, expected a few hundred people would be screened.
Aimee Garcia, who appeared on The George Lopez Show (now in syndication), says she's learned a lot from George and Ann. Before, she says, "I knew kidneys help flush out the system, and that's it." These days, Garcia supports foundation events and talks to elementary school children about the importance of staying healthy and treating their kidneys right.
Kyle Kaplan is just 18, and this is his second year participating. "I think it's important for kids my age to come out here," he says. "I hope to inspire more people to get tested."
Sara Faden-Norman and her husband, Bobbie Norman, both in their Los Angeles Police Department uniforms, stood off to the side, watching the celebrity interviews. The two met in the police academy 14 years ago and have been together ever since. When he got kidney cancer and later needed a donor, she was deemed a match. "It was no question for me," she says.
Many people just don't think to ask about kidney-health screening, says Susanne Nicholas, MD, a nephrologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and volunteer supervisor for the KEEP screening program. Who should think of screening? ''If you have a history of high blood pressure, a family history of kidney disease, diabetes, or are 60 and up," you're due for screening, she says.