By Jessica Messerer-Trosin

Each year World Kidney Day raises awareness about the importance of kidneys, organs that among other things, filter our blood of toxins and help to make red blood cells.

Allison Speller, Brie Fehr, Talia Ollek and Taryn Christian are all third-year nursing students at Thompson Rivers University (TRU), and are organizing the World Kidney Day Health Fair, taking place at the Northills Centre on Kamloops’ north shore from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday, March 10.

They are working on a Community Health practicum placement under faculty field guide, Dr. Florriann Fehr and community partners Edna Humphreys and Linda Bonner-Brown.

“It’s been a lot of work, but we feel like it’s going to be really rewarding,” said Speller.

The event is free and the public can drop by any time.

Other TRU students from the school of nursing will also be there. First-year nursing students will be taking blood pressure and second years will be taking blood-glucose readings.

Pharmacists from Independent Grocers will provide cholesterol checks. There will also be other informational booths set up from various health organizations.

Part of their work has been meeting with patients in the community who have kidney disease and now require dialysis. According to Speller, this has been a great way to supplement the knowledge the students have gained in the classroom.

“It’s the application of the knowledge that we have that has been our best learning tool.”

This is the third year that TRU students are organizing the event, something that Bonner-Brown is thankful for.

“I am so thankful for Dr. Fehr to set this in motion — for me, the volunteers of Kamloops and the B.C. and Yukon branch of the Canadian Kidney Foundation.”

Bonner-Brown has been volunteering at the foundation for more than 20 years, aiming to educate others as an average person.

She’s regularly in contact with the Royal Inland Hospital and is therefore able to provide updated statistics about the Kamloops area, which also includes Clearwater, Williams Lake and Chase.

The number of people in Kamloops and are who are suffering from kidney issues has been on the rise in the last five months.

Statistics show last year in September, 1,181 people in this region had problems with their kidneys versus 1,253 on Feb. 10, 2016. Most of these people are able to keep their issues under control by diet and lifestyle changes — as of February 2016 this includes more than 1,000 people.

During that period, the number of patients on dialysis has decreased. One hundred and forty nine are now on dialysis versus 161 this past September.

In this area there are currently 80 people waiting for a donor kidney. Some of them have been waiting for more than 10 years, according to Bonner-Brown.

She encourages people to come to the World Kidney Day event.

“Get screened and it won’t cost you a thing!”

One local Kamloops woman affected by kidney disease is Sylvia Hillman. Her life was changed when she received a donor kidney in 2014.

She first found out she had kidney disease in 2004. Since Sylvia has diabetes, her doctor kept an eye on the function of her kidneys.

For three years she was able keep the kidney disease under control by diet alone, but after back surgery everything went “out of whack.”

For a year, Sylvia did four-hour, at-home dialysis. Then, in 2008, she began doing hemodialysis at home. Hemodialysis is when a machine filters specific waste and other fluids from your blood, as your kidneys are no longer able to do so. Most nights, she had to be hooked up to the machine that filtered her blood.

Although she liked the comfort of being able to do dialysis at home, she was tired all the time and thought she would have to do it forever.

“I had really given up. I thought after five years of hemo that I’m going to be on this for the rest of my life so let’s just face it.”

Initially her son planned to be her kidney donor, but a cross-match test revealed that Sylvia’s antibodies would reject the kidney.

Her luck changed.

“A year later I got the call that there were five donors and five donees across Canada.”

Sylvia, now 67, said the procedure was an easy one, but one that has drastically changed her life for the better.

Sylvia’s husband, Duane, also noticed a definite improvement.

“It’s so much easier for your life,” he said. “Her kidneys are great after the transplant.”

The two are now able to travel if they want to, not having to transport all the equipment required for the dialysis.

“You had to have a spare room just to keep this stuff,” said Duane.

Plagued by medical issues for a lot of her life, her recent neck surgery would not have been possible without the kidney donation.

Sylvia encourages people to consider becoming organ donors.

“I just wish that more people would donate. I think if they realized how much they would be helping person [they might consider it],” she said.

“The difference is incredible.”