National Director, Programs & Public Policy, The Kidney Foundation of Canada
Through education, research, and support, The Kidney Foundation of Canada is helping people with chronic kidney disease live full, productive lives.
Kidney disease is a serious illness that affects one in ten Canadians. It’s a chronic disease that’s often associated with other significant chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Its symptoms frequently go undetected until permanent damage has occurred.
In 1988, Nancy Verdin of Red Deer, Alberta, was 28, working full-time as an orthopedic occupational therapist and living life to the fullest. An avid sports enthusiast, she had just completed a downhill ski run, cross-country ski trek, and curling bonspiel and had no inkling that anything was wrong. But a few weeks later, she started experiencing swelling, nausea, and low appetite and energy levels. “Being very busy at work, I thought I could explain it away until I got a high blood pressure headache that was so severe, I landed in the hospital,” says Verdin.
That’s where she learned she had kidney failure — the result of chronic kidney disease (CKD). CKD is a condition defined as having kidney damage or decreased kidney function for a period of three months or more. CKD can range from mild to severe. In severe cases, the patient experiences kidney failure (also known as end-stage kidney disease). Unfortunately, symptoms of CKD often don’t present until the disease is quite advanced, as was the case with Verdin, who suddenly found herself adjusting to a whole new lifestyle. “I literally went from being admitted to hospital on a Saturday night to starting dialysis the following Monday morning,” she says.
Adjusting to a new lifestyle
Six weeks later, Verdin went back to work as a volunteer before returning as a full-time salaried employee in early 1989. That was shortly after the first of three failed kidney transplants. From 1998 to 2022, Verdin underwent daily in-centre dialysis treatments until 2002, when she was offered home dialysis, which she now does every second day.
It’s been a big learning curve with many “aha” moments along the way. One of those was realizing that although she had to give up some of her favourite foods — like baked potatoes — pace herself, and have regular dialysis, her life was by no means over. “That was the beginning of my empowerment,” says Verdin.
Throughout her journey, Verdin has turned to The Kidney Foundation of Canada for help, education, and peer support — eventually becoming Chair of the Red Deer chapter. “I give them a lot of credit,” says Verdin. “When I was diagnosed, their binder was the only information that was given to me and the peer supporter they put me in touch with was amazing,” she says.
A leader in programs, services, research and awareness
Established in 1964, The Kidney Foundation is a national health charity that supports Canadians with or at risk of developing kidney disease. “We’ve been a leader in programs, services, research opportunities, and awareness campaigns to help ease the stresses for people living with kidney disease and their families,” says Lydia Lauder, National Director of Programs and Public Policy with The Kidney Foundation.
The Kidney Foundation’s website provides free educational resources, such as webinars, forums, fact sheets, brochures, and patient handbooks, as well as a Kidney Community Kitchen, which features dietitian blogs, meal planners, recipes, and cooking demonstration videos. “There’s also a 10-minute online quiz people can take to learn whether they might be at risk of kidney disease and should speak to their doctor about having their kidney function checked,” says Lauder.
The Foundation provides peer support — both one-on-one in-person support and online support groups. For individuals facing financial challenges, there’s short-term emergency financial assistance available to cover medical and other expenses associated with kidney disease or treatment, along with tax and insurance tips for people on dialysis or who have had a kidney transplant.
From patient to research partner
Through funding opportunities and various partnerships, The Kidney Foundation supports and advances research into kidney-related disease. A key partnership is the Kidney Research Scientist Core Education and National Training (KRESCENT) Program. Since retiring in 2017, Verdin has stepped up her involvement in patient advocacy and is now a member of KRESCENT’s patient council as a Patient Partner. “I’m so grateful and I enjoy it so much. We bring the other side of the medical world to the program,” she says.
Kidneys are vital organs that are essential for one’s overall health. Diabetes and high blood pressure are the leading causes of CKD in Canadian adults. Staying on top of one’s kidney health is very important, particularly for those at greater risk of kidney disease.