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Raising Money, Awareness of Kidney Disease

Local resident, TV reporter in 2012 Kidney Walk.

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Jummy Olabanji

Chantilly resident Jummy Olabanji has the distinction of being an on-air reporter with WJLA, the local ABC TV affiliate; and in 2002, she was part of the first class to graduate from Westfield High.

She’s also one of 26 million adults in the U.S. who’ve been diagnosed with kidney disease. And on Sunday, April 22, at 3 p.m., she’ll participate in the National Kidney Foundation’s 2012 Kidney Walk at the Reston Town Center.

Normally, Olabanji doesn’t seek the limelight for herself or want to be the subject of the news. But for this event, she’s stepping out and speaking up to help others.

Diabetes and high blood pressure are the two main causes of kidney disease. And the groups most affected by it are African Americans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and senior citizens. So when Olabanji’s blood pressure started rising, she didn’t ignore it.

"I’d started to notice my blood pressure was higher than normal and I didn’t know why," she said. "But being an African American and knowing my family has high cholesterol, kidney disease and high blood pressure, I’ve always been health-conscious."

So she saw her doctor and, in spring 2011, received her diagnosis. "My uncle is on dialysis and I’ve known other extended family members who have kidney disease," said Olabanji. "So you always know it’s there, but don’t know for certain it’ll happen to you."

Luckily, she said, her case "isn’t bad, at all. But because I carry the gene and it affected my blood pressure, [the doctors] just wanted me to be more aware. I’m healthy, active and not overweight, but I’ve had to change my diet and add more exercises."

BEFORE HER DIAGNOSIS, Olabanji loved snacking on chips and would often salt her food. Now, she no longer uses table salt and asks restaurants not to put any additional salt on her meal. She also reads food labels to check out the sodium content because, she said, "Sodium isn’t good for your heart and blood pressure."

In addition, she now does cardio exercises a couple times a week at a gym and checks her blood pressure at home. The 2006 Virginia Tech grad is also looking forward to participating in the upcoming Kidney Walk.

The nonprofit National Kidney Foundation is dedicated to preventing kidney disease and supporting people and families affected by it, while promoting the importance of organ donation. Funds from the 5K or 1-mile memorial walk will help it carry out its goals, and that’s why Olabanji is taking part.

"I’m a busy, young professional who hesitated to say anything about my condition to anyone because lots of people are in worse shape than I am," she said. "I’m fine. I’m simply trying to shed light on the wonderful work the Kidney Foundation is doing to raise money and help people in the community with preventative care and early detection."

"They’re able to offer free, kidney-disease screenings because of the money they raise," continued Olabanji. "So anything I can do to help them, I’m happy to do."

She said she’ll be pleased if she can encourage or help anyone who may be at risk to go to a screening and get checked for high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease. "You may be healthy, you may be fine," she said. "But it’s better to get checked and know for sure."

Most people don’t even know diabetes is the number-one cause of kidney failure, said Olabanji. "You hear so much about other diseases but, for many people, this is a silent killer – and they don’t know anything’s wrong until it’s too late. Just recently, for example, [celebrity] Nick Cannon just collapsed and had no idea his kidneys were shutting down."

April is National Organ Donation Month and, at the Kidney Walk, she’ll be walking in honor of her uncle Diran Idowu who suffers from kidney disease and is searching for a replacement kidney. That’s why she says she’s become "kidney smart" and truly realized there’s no cure for kidney disease.

"There are thousands of people across this country, just like my uncle, in need of a new kidney to live a longer, healthier life," said Olabanji. "So many people die every year, waiting for a kidney. But you only need one kidney to survive; so I hope some people will share their spare."

THE APRIL 22 WALK falls on Olabanji’s birthday, and she’s delighted to spend it that way. Joining her in the 5K walk around the Reston Town Center will be nine of her close friends and family members. Their team name is Teal Team Six.

"I picked the name after I heard about the amazing heroism shown by the U.S. Navy’s elite Seal Team Six squadron," she explained. "They took down one of the world’s most-feared terrorists, and my team is going to fight for awareness of kidney disease. Teal happens to be one of my favorite colors, as well."

Olabanji hopes to raise $1,000 for the event and has already collected $745 in donations from friends, co-workers and relatives. Contributions to the Foundation may also be made at http://donate.kidney.org/site/TR/Walk/NationalCapitalArea?pg=entry&fr_id=4311.

Kidney Evaluation Screening

A Kidney Early Evaluation Program (KEEP) screening will be held Sunday, April 29, from noon-4 p.m., at the Vienna Adventist Academy, 340 Courthouse Road S.W., in Vienna. It’s free to people, 18 and over, with risk factors for – or a family history of – kidney disease, diabetes or high blood pressure.

The screening includes a comprehensive health-risk appraisal, blood-pressure measurement, blood and urine testing and the opportunity for participants to discuss their health and review their results with on-site clinicians. To make an appointment for a KEEP screening elsewhere, call 202-244-7900

Usually, Olabanji does her talking on ABC-TV’s "Good Morning, Washington" show. But this time, she said, "I’m using my voice and energy for those who can’t. Come out and walk, bring the family, donate if you can – and support the Kidney Foundation and the great job they’re doing in the Washington, D.C., area."