Did you know that African Americans are 3 times more likely to suffer from kidney failure than Caucasians? Did you know kidney failure is the ninth leading cause of death in the United States? Or that approximately 4.9 million African Americans over 20 years of age are living with either diagnosed or undiagnosed chronic kidney disease?

Diabetes and hypertension are the leading causes of kidney disease. Statistics show African Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as Caucasians.

When left untreated, diabetes and hypertension can lead to chronic kidney disease and kidney failure, requiring dialysis or a transplant in order for survival.

“The first step in preventing kidney failure is awareness and getting tested,” says 34-year-old Denise Robinson from D.C. Robinson was 27 when she discovered her kidneys had failed and she needed treatments or a new kidney to live. “I was devastated, I felt kind of hopeless and even though I had a huge support system, I couldn’t help feeling alone and worried.

Fortunately, she did have a remarkable support system, one that helped her with researching and understanding her condition and became her donor.

Derek Robinson, Denise’s boyfriend at the time, was worried about her health and was secretly tested to find out if he was a match. On Valentine’s Day, Derek surprised Denise with the news that he was a match and was donating a kidney to her. The couple has since married, and Denise became a patient advocate with the American Kidney Fund using her story to educate and empower others.

“Derek was so selfless in donating his kidney to me, so it’s important to me to serve as an advocate. … not only is it my way to continuously thank my husband for his life-saving gift to me but it also gets the message out and raises awareness about kidney disease,” informs Denise Robinson.

In addition to gaining awareness and being tested, other ways to prevent kidney failure include keeping a low blood pressure, regularly checking blood sugar levels, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and controlling cholesterol levels.

Tanisha Ashford, 39, is an Upper Marlboro resident who donated a kidney to her father in September 2001. Ashford’s father had the kidney for about six years before it was rejected and he had to go on dialysis. After donating her kidney, Ashford was diagnosed with Stage 1 chronic kidney disease. Tony Simms, her fiancé, also has kidney disease, and like Denise and Derek Robinson, together they support one another as patient advocates with the American Kidney Fund.

“Do your research! It’s possible to live a normal and healthy life with one kidney. If you can help someone in need, consider becoming a donor. It’s always a good feeling helping others,” Ashford said.

Ashford confirmed that the most difficult aspect about raising awareness in the fight against kidney disease is that most people are either secretive about their condition or afraid of giving blood and being tested. For Ashford saving a life is a “no brainer. I was always a donor, but when I found out about my father’s condition I didn’t think twice about getting tested to see if I was a good match for him.”

Both Robinson and Ashford encourage others to educate themselves and family members about the disease. These women continue to fight against kidney disease by using their stories as an inspiration to others and by doing their best to maintain and promote a healthy life style.