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Kidney group celebrates another year; Local affiliate nearly closed in '11

A luncheon Sunday that drew more than 130 people to the Millennium Hotel in Cheektowaga was a celebration of survival -- both of individual people with kidney disease and of a local group that assists them in their physical, emotional and financial struggles.

In June of last year, the National Kidney Foundation closed its local office, said Barbara Breckenridge, who was then community relations director. But the Northeast Kidney Foundation office in Albany stepped up to affiliate with the local office and allow its work to continue.

"We were so grateful to them when they stepped in," said Breckenridge, who has resumed her role in the affiliated foundation office.

"There were a lot of changes that occurred at the end of June," said Carol LaFleur, executive director of the Northeast Kidney Foundation, who traveled to Buffalo for Sunday's luncheon. "When they closed the Buffalo office, we reached out to see if we could lend a hand."

That hand enabled the local office to stay open and continue its mission of assisting people with kidney disease, including some on dialysis and others who have received transplants.

People in all stages of disease, medical professionals, families of donors and friends came to the luncheon Sunday.

"One woman who is here was just diagnosed and has not started dialysis yet," Breckenridge said. "She called and asked me if she could come to meet and talk to some people who are going through this. Of course I said yes."

Being able to meet and talk with others who are going through the same illness is invaluable, said Breckenridge, who received a kidney transplant herself in 1999. All she knows about the donor is that he was a man, about 40, from the Southern Tier. "He and his family gave me a new life," she said. "I've been so blessed that I have to help others."

"Barbara is one of the most giving people I've ever met," said Sue Benner, a volunteer at the luncheon.

Two women who attended the luncheon, Althea Crawford and Charlotte Berry, have plenty of support from each other as they help their husbands through struggles with kidney disease -- they are sisters. Kenneth Berry, who sang and played jazz and pop standards during the luncheon, was diagnosed in 2003 and received a kidney transplant in 2007. Hilton Crawford, who played cornerback for the Buffalo Bills in 1969, has been on home dialysis for nine months, supervised by Althea Crawford.

When Hilton Crawford's mother suffered from kidney disease decades ago in Louisiana, she had to travel 80 miles to a dialysis center, so the family is grateful for the medical advances that have made home dialysis possible.

Kenneth Berry "is doing great, just as long as he takes his medications. He can do just about anything he wants," Charlotte Berry said. "We are so grateful for the transplant donor. We don't know too much about the person, but we pray for that person and the family every day, they were such a blessing to us. It's so wonderful to know that there are donors who have helped people even after they have passed away themselves."

A gift from the West Seneca Woman's Club helped pay for the luncheon. The club added the group to its list of charity recipients after Breckenridge spoke to the West Seneca Woman's Club last year, said Diane Beres, who represented the club at the luncheon.

"We liked the fact that they gave people support, other than just medical assistance, and that we could help give them a little something extra," Beres said.

Breckenridge estimates that some 1,700 people in Western New York are undergoing dialysis, a mechanical method of cleaning the blood of toxins after kidney failure, and about 500 are awaiting a kidney transplant. She said one person in eight in this area has kidney disease, and many are not aware of it.

Risk factors for kidney disease include high blood pressure or diabetes, or a family history of either.

Breckenridge emphasized the need for early detection of kidney ailments. To identify people in the early stages of kidney disease, the group sponsors free local screenings.

The next one is set for March 3 at Ephesus Ministries, 341-345 Grider St. It is open to anyone older than 18 with high blood pressure, diabetes, a family history of either or of kidney disease. To sign up, call Breckenridge at 510-6702.

"There is no cure for kidney disease, just treatments and lifestyle changes you can make" to keep it from worsening, Breckenridge said. "But you can't do that if you don't know you have it."