Trenin Jones waited patiently for the blood pressure cuff around his arm to expand. He hadn’t had his pressure checked in a while, he said, but he wanted to “gauge where he was.” His result: high blood pressure.
“It’s actually a little surprising,” Jones said after a volunteer removed the cuff. “I need to take some care of my health. It’s a wake-up call, I guess; looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me.”
The 32-year-old Maryland native was one of hundreds of people receiving screenings at the GW Ron and Joy Paul Kidney Center/GW Transplant Institute booth at the NBC4 Health and Fitness Expo, held Jan. 9 and 10 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. The expo featured close to 300 booths, demonstrations on cooking and exercise, and dental and health screenings.
“Without these types of screenings, many of the people here today would never even know of their health problems,” said Tony Englert, executive director of the GW Ron and Joy Paul Kidney Center. Alerting patients to their potential kidney problems, particularly when related to hypertension, or high blood pressure, and diabetes, is crucial to what the GW Ron and Joy Paul Kidney Center promotes: awareness and education.
“We want to make sure that if you ever get to the point that you have kidney failure and need a transplant, you know all your options,” Englert said.
Washington, D.C. has a high concentration of kidney disease, centered in northeast and southeast D.C., Prince George’s County, and southern Maryland, explained J. Keith Melancon, M.D., chief of the Division of Transplant Surgery, director of the GW Hospital Transplant Institute, and professor of surgery at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS). Because of population size and demographics — kidney disease disproportionately affects African Americans and Hispanic Americans — the D.C. area, he said, has the highest prevalence of end-stage renal disease in the country.
“When you come to free events like this,” Melancon said, “those patients represented in the population can get access to health care professionals on their own terms. It is imperative that we are [here].”
The expo, he explained, also served as a portal for patients who have not had easy access to care. One woman had approached him earlier on Saturday to discuss her son, a 25-year-old who had been on dialysis for three years. “Someone like that comes forward, and I told her, ‘Absolutely, come to us,’” Melancon said. “So that becomes a portal; she walks through and then her son comes through. We want to give him the best access to health care.”
Melancon added that referrals to GW spike after community-based programs like the NBC4 Expo; by the end of the weekend event, Melancon had referred some patients with extreme hypertension to the emergency room and another, who was in need of a kidney transplant, to GW.
Kyra Folkert, a first-year M.D. student at SMHS, was one of several volunteers from the GW community, including GW Hospital and the GW Medical Faculty Associates, who lent her time to screenings.
“My dad is a kidney doctor, and I feel really strongly about getting people to get their blood pressure checked because it’s important to maintain good blood pressure to maintain good kidney function,” Folkert said. “Just getting the knowledge out to people is really important.”