National Kidney Foundation…Twenty-six million American adults (one in eight) have chronic kidney disease, and another 20 million are at increased risk of developing it. “Unfortunately, not everybody is aware of the risk factors of kidney disease, which include hypertension, diabetes and family history,” says Cyndi Miller, development director for the National Kidney Foundation in St. Louis.

    Serving the region for more than 40 years, the foundation works to prevent kidney and urinary tract diseases, to help improve the health and well-being of those affected and to increase the availability of organs for transplantation. “We focus on prevention,” Miller points out. “On average, we’re alerting 50 percent or more of our screening participants that they have symptoms that could lead to kidney disease, or even kidney failure. There have been times when we’ve sent individuals directly to emergency rooms because they had dangerously high blood pressure and needed immediate care.”    

    Miller adds that the foundation makes a special effort to reach out to those who need its services most. “Our screenings typically serve people who don’t have access to this type of in-depth screening because they are uninsured, under-insured or simply unaware of community resources for health care,” she says. “We educate them about free health care facilities, and the follow-up we provide offers further encouragement along the road to better health.”

American Heart Association

    Established in 1926, the St. Louis chapter of the American Heart Association has a rich tradition with the organization. “One of the founding cardiologists, Hugh McCulloch, was a St. Louisan, giving us a really great tie to the AHA’s mission and goals,” says board chairman Parker Condie Jr., who notes the organization’s mission is to ‘build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.’

    Cardiovascular disease and stroke are the No. 1 cause of death in Missouri, and the St. Louis area has recently been ranked No. 37 out of 38 metropolitan cities as the least heart-friendly for women. To improve outcomes, Condie says the AHA has defined specific goals targeted toward St. Louisans. “‘Start! St. Louis’ is a new walking fitness and nutrition program that promotes individual responsibility in building a healthier community; ‘Go Red for Women’ addresses the issue of women and heart disease through awareness programs; ‘Alliance for a Healthier Generation’ is designed to fight childhood obesity; and ‘Power to End Stroke’  increases awareness of heart disease and stroke in the African American community.”

    One of the AHA’s notable successes came recently. “In 2000, the AHA set an impact goal of reducing coronary heart disease, stroke and risk 25 percent by the year 2010,” Condie explains. “I’m happy to report we not only met that goal but achieved it two years early.” He says building a community action network consisting of medical leadership, corporate support and individual volunteers is key. “We’re trying to create awareness through education, we could do better here.”

March of Dimes

    The March of Dimes was formed in 1938 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help conquer the polio epidemic, which infected mostly children. Through research funded by the organization, the polio vaccine emerged 17 years later and has effectively wiped out the disease in the Western Hemisphere.

    Fifty years later, the March of Dimes is fighting a new epidemic, according to St. Louis executive director Deborah Kersting. “Prematurity, one of the leading causes of infant death and disability, is at epidemic proportions, affecting 11 times the number of children afflicted by polio,” she says. “More than one out of every eight babies is born prematurely in Missouri, that’s more than 10,000 babies a year.” Kersting notes that while there are several factors that can help predict the risk of preterm birth, there is no known cause for half the cases of premature birth. “We need more awareness to educate women about the signs and symptoms of preterm labor,” she says.

    Significant strides have been made just in the last five years when it comes to improving the health of babies, according to Kersting. “When any baby is born in Missouri, we perform 66 screening tests for genetic or functional disorders. In just a few years, we’ve increased newborn screening from five to 66 tests. The latest one we implemented was for cystic fibrosis,” she says. “If you multiply 66 tests times 81,000 babies, that’s a pretty big impact.” Kersting says research and funding grants to local universities have also increased, from $2 million to $5 million. “We’ve had tremendous support from the community and corporations. We could not have had the successes without the funding to go behind it.”