Austin Kidney Walk brings together community members affected by disease

For the first time in more than two years, the Austin Kidney Walk was held in person on Sunday at The Pitch in Northeast Austin.

FOX 7 Austin evening anchor Rebecca Thomas – who donated a kidney to her mother seven years ago this November – emceed the event again this year. Proceeds raised from the event benefit the National Kidney Foundation.

"We are out here first and foremost to raise awareness for kidney disease with kidney patients, their families, their caregivers, to let people know that we are here, the community is here," said Ty Fleeman, community outreach director for the National Kidney Foundation Serving Texas.

The Foundation's executive director said their mission is education, awareness and treatment. "People are not often aware of kidney disease," said Lorna Hankins. "It’s not one of those diseases that everybody knows about or there’s a big spotlight on." 

However, it’s estimated to affect an estimated 37 million adults in the U.S. It can be triggered by anything from a childhood disease, like Lupus, to diabetes or hypertension in adulthood. 

"Ultimately, when patients are at the point where their kidney function isn't able to maintain itself, and they need to either be on dialysis or they're really close to being on dialysis, that's when they get a kidney transplant evaluation and come to see us," said Nicole Turgeon, director of the Abdominal Transplant Center at Dell Children’s Medical Center and Dell Seton Medical Center at UT.

Their adult kidney transplant program has been open for a year, and the pediatric program has been online for just about six months. In that time, they’ve done seven transplants and nine living donor surgeries. 

"The challenge is there's over 100,000 people on the kidney transplant waiting list with kidney disease," said Turgeon. "We don't have enough organ supply for those patients."

Matthew Novelli has been on a waiting list for over a year. It’s been a lifelong journey for him - his first transplant was at the age of two. 

"I’m on dialysis currently," said Novelli, who participated in the walk on Sunday. "Overall, I feel pretty good, but there will be some days I kind of feel crummy." 

He’s trying to raise awareness by placing painted rocks around Austin that tell a little of his story and direct people to his Facebook page.

"I’m a hard case as far as difficult to find a match for because of my antibodies," he said.

For those interested in learning more about becoming a living kidney donor, click here.