Q & A with Jeremy Morlock

Kidney Foundation of WNY’s executive director highlights need for organ donation, says kidney disease is underrecognized

By Brenda Alesii

As the calendar turns to April, there are plenty of notable days to acknowledge: Ramadan, Passover and Easter, along with some days we may not find quite as appealing like tax day.

Among the most notable milestones in April is Donate Life Month, observances to raise awareness and a way to honor individuals who selflessly save lives through the gift of donation.

Jeremy Morlock, director at the Kidney Foundation of WNY since 2019, chatted with In Good Health about community awareness and patient support in the eight area counties they serve.


Q. What is the mission of the Kidney Foundation and how big is your organization?
A. We are a small foundation, consisting of two full-time employees, including me, and many volunteers. We work closely with ConnectLife, which provides us with office space and administrative support. We also partner with the transplant center at ECMC and with dialysis centers. Our mission is to improve kidney health, increase awareness of kidney disease, and support those suffering from disease. While we are most active in Erie and Niagara counties, we strive to improve outreach in all areas, especially rural communities.

‘Diabetes is the number one factor [for kidney disease] because uncontrolled blood sugar is harmful to kidney function. Hypertension is number two.

Q. It seems that so many other diseases are consistently in the spotlight and that kidney-related issues are not as prominent even though the kidney is the most transplanted organ and also the most needed. Is that the case?
A. Yes, kidney disease is globally underrecognized and Western New York is no different in that way. We want to educate people about risk factors, many of which are not known. For example, a person can lose 90% of kidney function before recognizing that something is wrong.

Q. What are the main risk factors?
A. Diabetes is the number one factor because uncontrolled blood sugar is harmful to kidney function. Hypertension is number two. High blood pressure places extra stress and strain on the tiny, sensitive filters of the kidneys. When the kidneys are subjected to extreme conditions, they don’t filter well and more toxins build up. Other significant risk factors include obesity, heart disease and a family history of kidney disease. With advanced kidney disease, an individual may experience chest pain, dry skin, itching, loss of appetite, muscle cramps, headaches, fatigue and increased or decreased urination.

Q. What if blood is spotted in one’s urine?
A. Some forms of kidney disease can cause microscopic amounts of blood to be present in urine. Injuries to the kidneys from contact sports can cause blood that is visible in urine or it can be caused by a urinary tract infection or other medical issue. It may not be kidney disease, but it is definitely a reason to see a doctor.

Q. What about risk factors for kidney cancer and renal pelvis cancers?
A. Smoking is the most important risk factor. The others are those that we discussed as well as the following: taking certain medications for a long time, having a long-lasting infection with hepatitis C, having kidney stones, having sickle cell trait, which is associated with a rare form of renal medullary carcinoma. Another risk factor is exposure to a chemical called trichloroethylene, used to remove grease from metal.

Q. What groups are most at risk?
A. African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders. More women are affected by kidney disease caused by lupus than men.

Q. What does an individual do if interested in donating a kidney or other organ?
A. Anyone 16 or older can sign up with the New York State Donate Life Registry, to be an organ, eye or tissue donor after death. Many people sign up when they get a driver’s license, or you can register online at donatelife.ny.gov.

Someone interested in becoming a living kidney donor can contact a transplant clinic to be evaluated. ECMC’s transplant team number: 716-898-5001.

We’re also working with the National Kidney Donation Organization, which has mentors for prospective living kidney donors and shares information about living donation at www.nkdo.org.

Q. Does your organization participate in community outreach programs?
A. We sure do. It’s a wonderful way to talk to people about risk factors, disease, prevention, and treatment options like medication and dialysis. We appreciate the volunteers—doctors, nurse practitioners, other medical personnel—who help at the outreach centers by conducting free screenings, BMI calculations, blood pressure, blood sugar and urine analysis. We discuss what it means to have kidney disease, explain about dialysis options, and transplantation.

Q. How is your foundation funded?
A. Our biggest fundraiser is the Walk for Kidney Health, which will be held at the Outer Harbor on Aug. 21. That is a strategic date because Sundays are the only day that people do not undergo dialysis. Other funding sources come from donations, grants and we receive some financial support from Connect Life.

Q. How can people reach you?
A. Our website: www.KFWNY.org or call us at 716-529-4390.