Hawaii lawmaker stresses importance of prevention, detection after battling kidney disease

State leaders and health advocates are raising awareness about what many call a silent epidemic
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 5:44 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 15, 2023 at 9:59 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - During this National Kidney Month, state leaders and health advocates are raising awareness about what many call a silent epidemic.

State Rep. Mark Nakashima knows that firsthand.

He developed kidney disease after living with diabetes for nearly two decades.

“I probably did not, was not attentive enough to the diabetes control as I should have been,” Nakashima said.

His kidneys were so damaged, he had to get regular dialysis to remove the toxins from his blood. It took a toll.

“I was contemplating hanging it up because yeah, I wasn’t sure that I could make a good push through another session,” he added.

But then a New Year’s miracle.

“I was a match for a donor kidney, living donor, which is really serendipitous, because the chances of success are much better when you have a living donor,” he explained.

About a week later, he had a kidney transplant in San Francisco.

“After the surgery, I felt just 100% better already. And it’s only been getting better since then,” he said.

Nakashima knows how lucky he is ― only about a fifth of patients on the transplant waitlist get one. Twelve people die each day waiting.

About 15% of American adults have chronic kidney disease, mostly caused by uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure. Hawaii’s kidney failure rate is 30% higher than the national rate.

Many don’t have symptoms and don’t know they have kidney disease until it’s severe.

“it’s sad that it’s undetected,” said Pliny Arenas, US Renal Care Vice President of Operations. “We need to educate our population, our residents about watching their diets and what are the predisposing factors in their family.”

“If you end up on dialysis, the only cure you have is transplant,” he added.

“Without it, people will literally pass away and die. But we focus on prevention, we focus on the need not to be on dialysis,” said Glen Hayashida, President/CEO of the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii, which provides education and resources for maintaining healthy kidneys.

While dialysis saves lives, experts say prevention and early detection save families grief and money.

“It’s like providing treatment, care, transportation, your whole life then revolves around dialysis,” Hayashida explains. “You talk about cost to provide dialysis and related medical expenses. It’s almost $100,000 per patient per year. Now, you multiply that by close to the 5,000 people on dialysis, that’s only for Hawaii alone.

“So nationwide, there’s almost 500,000 people on dialysis, and you multiply that by $100,000. then that’s how much we’re spending just on dialysis. And so that really, the solution to taking care of your kidneys cannot be building more dialysis centers. It’s just too costly.”

That means controlling your diabetes and hypertension, getting annual checkups and blood and urine screenings, being active and eating healthy.

It’s a lesson Nakashima learned after getting a second chance at life.

“Continue to be healthy, continuing to exercise. And I try to be a positive influence on myself and my colleagues,” he said.

The public is invited to the Hawaii Kidney Walk and Health Fair at Kapiolani Regional Park onMarch 25 at 8 a.m.

A KIDneyZone will have face painting, balloon art, and games for the keiki.