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Avoid a benefit, if you can

Music, sunshine and generosity stirred like the comforting breeze over the patio behind Station One last Sunday during an event many will remember with great fondness.

I, too, enjoyed the benefit for kidney donor Sonie Gibson and kidney recipient, her husband, Doug. But while there, I also harbored an uneasy feeling that too many people will be attending too many benefits like it in too many decades to come.

Before getting to that, I’d like to celebrate:

•The caring spirit that brought people together.

•The great music provided by bands that volunteered their time and talent, the work of organizers like Doug’s sister, Monica Spencer, sound man Curt Britton, and the love for music that provides the glue for the community’s bond.

•The moving song Doug’s longtime band make Kenny Aronhalt wrote and sang to him during the event.

•The reunion feel that enveloped the place when Aronhalt and others of Doug’s former band, New Music, took the stage.

•The performance of Aronhalt’s musical heir, 16-year-old Mallory Leigh Aronhalt, who reminded the audience that New Music, capitalized or not, is always followed by yet newer music.

This all somehow built toward the moment when Doug, with cane in hand, was helped to the stage to sit behind the drum kit and play two songs with his old mates.

Those numbers drew members of the audience to their feet to gather around the stage like pilgrims at a shrine as the Gibson family stood on stage taking pictures and videos of the panorama.

All of that was a reminder of of what is best and finest in the human spirit, both in the sentiments of the audience and the personal courage and resilience of Doug and Sonie.

And Aronhalt’s song, which had the power of a Tim McGraw ballad, confessed that he for years missed what most of us miss as we go about our lives and, only at benefits pause to consider their cause: “He’s beat the odds in a life that’s full of pain.”

And that’s what has me worried: the suffering and pain that awaits so many unlikely to beat the odds in years to come.

I’m sure some of this fear was was shaped by my family circumstances. My Grandma Stafford, like Doug Gibson, had brittle diabetes. But while he was able to narrowly escape losing a foot, she lost a leg on the way to losing her life.

And as a child having seen her passed out in our house before being taken to the hospital, I have been frightened in the past few years by what I’ve learned about kidney disease, kidney failure and its causes.

Forty percent of people who go on dialysis because of kidney failure do so within a week of finding out they have any kidney problems at all. Imagine a knock on the door and a messenger tells you that you’d begin dialysis as of tomorrow and stay on it the rest of your life, unless a transplant became available.

The prime reason for such rude awakenings is one of the silent drivers for kidney failure: Uncontrolled high blood pressure. Just as it drives heart and circulatory disease, it wears out the small vessels the kidney uses to filter impurities from our blood.

And both high blood pressure and the second driver, our old enemy, diabetes, are threatening to crest and crash down on us like a tsunami if we don’t do a better job controlling the tidal rise of obesity, which causes both.

None of this, of course, is good benefit or party conversation. Nor is it the kind of thing to use when promoting a silent auction or selling tickets for a 50-50 drawing.

What’s often worse is that talk about kidney disease focuses on the financial cost and consequences. Those are important, of course, one of the reason fundraisers are necessary. And, in truth, it’s best to avoid such crushing costs.

But to families who have been through the experience, the numbers can seem a cheap accounting for the physical pain and personal suffering caused by the loss of kidney function, the loss of limbs, and the loss of life.

Because along the way, loved ones often look on as a son’s, daughter’s, father’s, mother’s, brother’s, sister’s or grandparent’s spirit seems to sink back into their flesh as illness grows.

There’s nothing wrong with honoring survivors as heroes, as Aronhalt did in his song to Doug Gibson, who for a long time has shown an iron discipline in the face of a difficult to control version of the disease that has chipped steadily away at him.

My hope, though is to convince others who can more easily avoid his circumstance to act as soon as possible.

Those of you who have high blood pressure, please take your medicine. Those who haven’t been checked for it, get checked. And spread the word to your family and best friends.

If you hear of a free blood sugar test, take it, or sign up for one offered at work or a free screening.

If the paper this is printed on had an alarm, I’d sound it now to broadcast the news more urgently to African-Americans, who suffer from kidney disease at more than three times the rate of whites.

Please don’t volunteer to be a hero. Avoid it if at all costs.

You’ll benefit most if you can avoid having a benefit held for you.

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