I have a fatal disease: Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. It is destroying my kidneys and will soon require dialysis. Like 100,791 other Americans, I am waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant.

Experiencing kidney failure, dialysis and the uncertainty of transplant is a long, punishing road. Every morning you wake up wondering, "Can I make it through the day?" Thanks to my work family at the Scott County Family YMCA, I know I can.

They recently hosted a fundraiser for me that still overwhelms me with gratitude. I wish I could thank each person who came. It meant more to me than you will ever know.

Let me express my gratitude here, by helping raise awareness both of the disease and the desperate need for kidney donation.

Many different conditions can lead to kidney failure. They include infections and high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. Kidney failure is a dangerous complication, and one that everyone should be aware of.

Lifestyle modifications should be adopted where possible, of course, but lifestyle itself is only one contributing factor. Genetic inheritance is another. My own disease began in childhood. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure at the age of 19.

African Americans are at increased risk for both high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes. These diseases have helped place us predominantly on the transplant wait list. We represent 35 percent of those awaiting a donated kidney.

So first, be aware of the need to take your lifestyle seriously. Genetics are not destiny. Eat right and exercise to help keep your health conditions in check, and possibly avoid triggering your genetic predisposition.

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Second, please consider giving the gift of life. Check that organ donation box on your driver’s license. Learn about becoming a living donor at www.unos.org. Your act of compassion will live on.

Third, African Americans donate organs for transplant at a far lower rate than do Caucasians. The fact is that the strongest and best tissue matches are found within the same ethnic groups. 

Finally, to all who came to my fundraiser: Your love blesses and humbles me. Your support will help defray the cost of the many expenses surrounding the procedure, as well as the loss of income I will face during many weeks of recuperation.

Acts of compassion toward someone facing a life-threatening time include fundraising. But they also include simply listening. Offering to help, whether by driving somewhere or preparing a meal: These acts make us feel less alone as we face some pretty tough odds.

Friends, you help me feel surrounded by love with your kindness every day. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Bell serves as a membership services representative at the Davenport North YMCA.

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