On an early Saturday morning, before most undergraduates were even awake from partying the night before, a dedicated group of pre-health students from the University of Connecticut set up screening stations at the Mansfield Community Center. A student dressed in a giant kidney suit welcomed community members at the entrance of the screening room as vibrant music set a welcoming atmosphere.
These pre-health students were providing free kidney screenings to Mansfield locals as part of UConn’s Kidney Disease Screening & Awareness Program (KDSAP), a student organization that hosts free kidney screenings at local soup kitchens, community centers and churches in the surrounding region, providing a valuable public health contribution to the community.
KDSAP, originally founded by Dr. Li-Li Hsiao, M.D., Ph.D., in 2008 at Harvard University, is a student-run organization created to tackle the general lack of awareness and attention of chronic kidney disease, which is becoming a more prevalent health issue in the United States. Sixth semester molecular cell biology major and co-president of UConn KDSAP Saurabh Kumar explains why kidney disease is such an important contemporary health issue.
“[Chronic kidney disease] is really important because it’s the eighth-leading cause of death in the country, and we don’t really talk very much about it despite its large effects on the population,” Kumar said. “Kidney disease is also very highly linked to health issues that are on the rise in America like diabetes, hypertension and obesity, which are comorbidities that contribute to the higher rate of kidney disease as well.”
In total, 23 local residents and UConn students were served in the screening over a course of just two hours. Participants systematically navigated a string of stations staffed by 16 student volunteers that measure key vital signs that factor into kidney disease (BMI, urinalysis, blood pressure, blood glucose and more) before being examined by a physician. One participant, Maureen Dagon from Amston, CT, commented on the professionalism of the volunteers involved as well as the convenience of the screening as a way to provide a peace of mind.
“Everyone who conducted the screenings were professional, mature, helpful and friendly. They should do [more screenings], it’s very convenient and it’s nice to have reassurance about your health,” Dagon said.
The UConn Nutrition club also played a crucial educational role in the screening event. Jessica Seltz, an eighth-semester nutritional sciences major and president of the Nutrition Club, highlighted the vital importance of nutritional awareness in the prevention and management of kidney disease.
“It’s important to inform participants about the role of a nutritional diet in allowing the kidney to function properly,” Seltz said. “If you overdo a lot of your nutrients or you don’t have the right ones, you put a lot of stress on the kidneys, which would damage them and lead to serious consequences elsewhere in the body like the heart.”
At the end of the screening, the participant’s data is presented to two physicians: Dr. Ibrahim ElAli, an associate professor of medicine from UConn Health’s Division of Nephrology, and Dr. Larissa Kruger, the Chief Resident of UConn Health’s Division of Internal Medicine planning to specialize further in nephrology. They interpret the findings and give medical advice and steps for future treatment. When asked why these screenings are important, Dr. ElAli commented on the vital role they play in preventative medicine.
“Two things: intervention and prevention,” Dr. ElAli said. “If we see something abnormal in the screenings, we can have intervention,and early intervention leads to prevention and avoidance of a disease.”
Dr. Kruger ended the event by saying how well she thought UConn KDSAP executed the screening.
“The organization of the event was great, the data collection was very systematic and efficient, and all of them seemed passionate – they really touched the communities that they were helping today,” Dr. Kruger said.
UConn KDSAP provides unique opportunities for pre-medical students at UConn who are looking to not only advocate for a highly focused issue, but also to make a tangible impact on the local community through the kidney screenings. According to Kumar, going out into the community to conduct these screenings plays into the core goals of KDSAP: community outreach, awareness of kidney disease and interest in the field of nephrology.
“A lot of advocacy groups only try to reach out to a small niche of people, but by going out to [the] community we are able to inform a larger group of people, who will tell their friends and family, thus spreading news about kidney disease,” Kumar said. “This is reflective of the central goals of KDSAP, which are to spread awareness about kidney disease, get students interested in the field of nephrology early in their academic careers and facilitate relationships between students and health professionals.”
Aside from regular kidney screenings, UConn KDSAP is looking to host more educational and advocacy events.
“In the past, we’ve hosted blood pressure screenings on Fairfield Way, organized physician guest speaker talks on kidney disease and professional development in medicine and are currently planning an educational advocacy event to raise awareness on kidney disease and associated risk factors on March 14, which is World Kidney Day,” Kumar said.
KDSAP Meetings are Tuesdays at 8 p.m. in Austin 102 and Nutrition Club Meetings are Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. in Monteith 130.
Derek Pan is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.