For sports fans, March is synonymous with basketball. It’s also National Kidney Month. So who better to spread the word about kidney health than an NBA All-Star who triumphantly returned to the court after a kidney transplant?
Former San Antonio Spurs legend and kidney transplant recipient Sean Elliot is teaming with dialysis treatment provider Fresenius Kidney Care this month as a “kidney coach” to educate people about chronic kidney disease (CKD) and the importance of detecting it early.
Elliot made history in 2000, becoming the first professional athlete to return to a major sport following a kidney transplant. He first learned he had CKD after the 1992-93 NBA season, when he was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a condition that prevents the kidneys from properly filtering the blood.
In 1999, shortly after helping propel the Spurs to their first-ever NBA championship title, Elliot’s doctors told him his condition had worsened and he needed a transplant. His brother, Noel Elliot, tested as a match and became his donor. The brothers celebrated the 20th anniversary of the operation in 2019.
“When I found out I had kidney disease, I knew I had to do everything possible to stay healthy,” Elliot says in a campaign video. “Since we caught it early, my doctor was able to monitor my condition, and I became the first player to return to the NBA after a transplant. Don’t wait to get tested. It can save your life.”
The campaign aims to raise awareness about the disease, its symptoms and its risk factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, Kate Dobbs, senior vice president of marketing and communications for Fresenius Medical Care North America, said in an email.
An estimated 1 in 7 people have CKD, and most of them don’t know they have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Early detection can slow progression, but there are usually no symptoms in the early stages, so it’s difficult to catch without screening.
“We want to inspire more people to begin the conversation on their kidney health with their primary care provider and emphasize the importance of a kidney-friendly and heart-healthy diet for everyone,” Dobbs added. “Stories like Sean’s can inspire our patients and the general public.”
Elliot is promoting the campaign to his nearly 46,000 Twitter followers and nearly 12,000 Instagram followers, directing them to a microsite with kidney-friendly recipes, information about symptoms, testing and treatment options and an offer to sign up for a free kidney care class.
He has long been an advocate for kidney health and previously was a spokesman for the National Kidney Foundation. When Fresenius approached Elliot about doing the campaign, he was “all in,” Dobbs said.
Fresenius has also been getting the word out through social media as well as paid media aimed at people with the highest risk factors.The campaign is targeting doctors via paid media, asking for their support in spreading kidney health awareness and “getting those that have late-stage CKD over to a nephrologist,” Dobbs said.
While Fresenius operates more than 2,150 dialysis facilities in North America, the company is also working to increase the number of patients who have preemptive transplants before starting dialysis as well as the adoption of at-home dialysis, Dobbs said. It also offers FreseniusRx, a pharmacy that ships dialysis meds directly to patients’ clinics.