By Yenny Love
Kidney failure has greatly affected my life. Even writing this piece was not easy. It still hurts just thinking about everything my family has experienced in the past few years when my younger brother was diagnosed with kidney disease. Trust me, I understand how the process can drag you down and wear you out! I also understand why family support is so crucial.
My brother Anthony was diagnosed with kidney failure in December 2011, one week before Christmas. Sitting in the ICU at Saint Peters Hospital, I watched as my little brother slept, the sound of machines keeping him alive. My mother was lying on the extra bed next to him and I was trying to sleep in between two chairs that I pulled together. I wasn’t comfortable at all but it was not like I could sleep anyway.
I honestly still don’t know how all of this happened. We went to visit the doctor thinking that Anthony needed vitamins and found ourselves in the ICU. After that, everything happened so fast. Doctors kept coming and going, followed by tests and biopsies, and a lesson in hemodialysis. We had many sleepless nights. It was a grueling time. We literally slept in the hospital for almost two months. Even our Christmas was spent there, and I remember Santa Claus walking in the hospital hallway giving presents to all the children in the ICU. I’ll never forget the excitement on my brother’s face because he got five presents!
My family and I were in a state of disbelief. This was not supposed to happen to us. Anthony was in his senior year of high school. His biggest worry should’ve been getting ready for the prom and graduation. Instead, he was worrying about dialysis sessions to make sure his blood was being properly filtered and busy trying to find a kidney donor to save his life.
Coming from a Latino family, I can tell you that we don’t go to the doctor unless we have tried every home remedy. From my grandmother’s old wives tales to my tia (aunt) that lives somewhere in the Dominican Republic to our neighbors and bodegueros, there were recommendations for concoctions made of tea root, onion, fish oil and strong Dominican antibiotics. I must confess that we tried all the remedies and homemade medicines, including eating Vicks by the spoonful, drinking Oregano tea unsweetened and swallowing a big mouthful of fish oil (eww!). I’m not sure if it has to do with faith or the feeling of comfort from remedies that were fed to me as a child living in Santo Domingo, but we Latinos are a very traditional and faithful people and not drinking grandma’s home remedies would be an insult to her wisdom.
With that said, I must stress the misinformation that exists in the Latino community. Home remedies are great, but not being informed about our family’s health history and not being aware of other alternatives are some of the things that we need to change. Understanding the risk factors for certain diseases where Latinos suffer in high percentages will increase awareness in our community and help us live healthier lives. These risks include diabetes, hypertension, obesity and elevated cholesterol levels. These conditions can lead to kidney disease among Latino adults and children.
Since kidney disease has a higher prevalence among Latinos, I must stress the importance of screening and knowing your family health history. This information can result in slowing down or preventing the progression of the disease—and living a longer, healthier life.
As for my brother, he was fortunate enough to find a donor and receive a successful kidney transplant. To hear more about our family’s journey, check back next week!
Yenny Love is an actress, writer, and producer. She is also one of the founders of the East Harlem International Film Festival.