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Support group dedicates bench to those affected by kidney disease

When Barbara Breckenridge first went on dialysis because of kidney disease, she didn't have anyone to talk to when she needed it most.

"Most times, when people hear that they got to go on dialysis, they just think, 'Well, this is the end of my life,' " Breckenridge said. "Which is what I thought when I first started."

But in July 1999, Breckenridge received a kidney transplant after 3 1/2 years on dialysis.

Now, Breckenridge is the community relations director of the recently formed Northeast Kidney Foundation of Greater Buffalo. The organization aims to support and improve the lives of those affected by kidney disease, even if that just means giving them someone to talk to.

On Sunday, Breckenridge found herself in Delaware Park to help dedicate a memorial bench honoring those affected by kidney disease and those who have given a kidney or will do so in the future.

After the dedication, many of those gathered took part in the Buffalo Walk for Kidneys 2012, a 1.8-mile trek around the park to raise funds for free kidney screenings, patient support and outreach in the community. Breckenridge said almost $30,000 was raised, coming from sponsorships and individual donations.

The Rev. James Lewis, director of pastoral care at Erie County Medical Center, dedicated the bench on Ring Road across from the Buffalo Zoo. It features a plate reading, "To those present and future affected by kidney disease and to the heroes that give and will give the gift of life. Dedicated by families, friends and the kidney support group at ECMC."

Frank Ireland, a current dialysis patient, made the 15-minute dedication more personal. Ireland lost a friend eight years ago to the disease, exactly one year after he received a kidney transplant.

"The hardest part is getting comfortable with losing someone," he said.

With the bench in Delaware Park, Breckenridge hopes those lost to kidney disease will live on. The bench, she said, cost about $3,500 and has been five years in the making.

"We got an idea about five years ago that we should do something to remember the people we had lost at dialysis," said Breckenridge, adding that many times the donors and recipients get the attention while those who never had the opportunity to have a transplant are forgotten.

At ECMC, a support group helps those affected by kidney disease, whether it's the donors, families, those on dialysis or those waiting to receive a transplant.

"Anybody that has any type of issue with the disease and with the journey that they're going through, we have somebody there who can talk to them and help them through," Breckenridge said.

To Brian Murray, chief medical officer and transplant program director at ECMC, such organizations fill an important void in the coping process.

In Western New York, Murray said, there are 50,000 people who have some form of kidney disease. While most have mild forms, up to 5,000 are on dialysis or in need of a kidney transplant.

"You can really see today how it's really a community of people who support each other through some very difficult moments," Murray said while he walked the loop at Delaware Park.