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Family health history 2

Life saving discussion
Most people haven't discussed organ donation with their family. So often families are forced to make decisions about donating organs without knowing what the deceased loved one would have wanted. When relatives know the deceased's wishes, they usually comply. When they don't know, they refuse organ donation about half of the time.

Only about 40% of adult Americans are registered organ donors. As a result, more than half of the Americans who need transplants in the US die. Many who haven't registered would do so if they were reminded of the dire need. According to LifeSharers, over 7,000 Americans die every year because of the organ shortage. Americans bury or cremate about 20,000 transplantable organs every year. Over 91,000 people are on the waiting list today for an organ and more than 40,000 more will join the list this year. America desperately needs more organ donors.

This information was provided by Dave Undis, LifeSharers, a voluntary network of organ donors whose members have preferred access to the organs of other members when they become available. Visit

Screen shot of the Family Reunion website: Click to enlarge Kidney Connection Guide cover. Click to enlarge

Make health a "family reunion" affair

Considering the hereditary nature of the key kidney disease risk factors, and the connectedness families feel during reunions, this might be a prime opportunity to discuss health issues. The National Kidney Disease Education Program's (NKDEP) Family Reunion Initiative encourages families to talk about the connection between diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease at family reunions. Many people don't know that diabetes and high blood pressure — conditions that often run in families — are the two leading causes of kidney failure. Approximately 20 million Americans have kidney disease and millions more are at risk. And there are things you can do to protect your kidneys.

NKDEP's Kidney Connection Guide provides everything you need to share important kidney health information at reunions. You don't have to know a lot about health or kidney disease. The Guideprovides background information about kidney disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, and outlines three sample approaches you can use to communicate the information.

African Americans are at particularly high risk: nearly four times more likely than Caucasians to develop kidney failure. And while they make up only 12 percent of the population, African Americans account for 32% of people who experience kidney failure

The Kidney Connection Guide is free and can be downloaded or ordered from NKDEP's Family Reunion Site,; or call 866-4 KIDNEY (866-454-3639). The National Kidney Disease Education Program is an initiative of the National Institutes of Health.

Also look at Family Reunion Health Guide: Make Kidney Health a Family Reunion Affair at This guide will help you talk to your family about kidney disease and its connection to diabetes and high blood pressure.

Is there a doctor in the house?
by Renita M. Brooks, RN, BSN

Reunion planning is difficult enough. I should know. I helped my mother plan our family reunion some years ago. Fortunately, this was after I had become a nurse and I had learned something very valuable: one thing an organizer can't afford to forget about is the possibility of health-related emergencies. Whether the gathering will take place indoors or out, is geared toward the old or young, or will last a few hours or a few days, don't forget about the need for access to emergency services.

You can do a multitude of things to cut the chances of having a major emergency, or can better prepare for an unavoidable emergency.
  • Be aware of all hospital or community emergency room facilities in advance of the reunion. This is fairly easy to accomplish. A basic yellow pages search in the local phone book or on the internet will reveal healthcare institutions in a given mile radius and the types of services and resources available at each hospital. This should be done far enough in advance so information can be included in pre-reunion mailers.
  • Learn who the high-risk attendees may be. There may be several people attending the reunion who have current health issues you should be aware of. If they are willing to let you know that they are of high risk, keep this information close and handy. The more you know about attendees and their health, the better you will be prepared to handle medical situations as they arise.
  • Have first aid kits handy throughout the reunion. Make sure there is at least one first aid kit available at every activity you plan. These cost anywhere from $10 to $40 and are available at most discount department or drug stores. Make sure they include--at least--bandages, tape, antihistamines (for allergic reactions) and topical antibiotics, especially if activities are outdoors. They may also include headache or diarrhea medications. If “patients” are younger, get consent when giving any first-aid.

Assign point persons to be responsible for kits and make sure every attendee knows who the person is and how to reach them. Point persons MUST be aware of how to use kit contents and be able to contact emergency services, if needed.

  • Hire a health care professional. This may not be necessary for every reunion, especially if money is tight. However, if attendees are older or if you plan lots of accident-prone activities (hiking, rock climbing or swimming), hiring a registered nurse familiar with your attendee population and/or issues regarding activities planned (such as an ER nurse) for a few hours of “stand-by” assistance may be considered. The issue here is safety, and if you can think of more than a few instances where “accidents” may occur, then you may need to look into this as a viable option.
  • Become BLS trained. Many community resources are happy to train as many people as possible to become versed in Basic Life Support. Many firehouses, hospitals and community centers charge $25 to $75 for the basic training course. Make sure that the BLS course is American Heart Association certified and that trainers have taken Instructor classes before you enroll.

It is essential that healthcare emergencies be part of the reunion planning process. Your attendees will appreciate the extra effort you put into including their safety and will be more than happy to know their security is as important to you as it is to them. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

About the Author
When Renita M. Brooks, RN, BSN, and her mother organized their Head/Williams Family Reunion, a family member felt faint and dizzy and needed assistance. Renita was a new nurse and wasn't entirely sure of what to do, except keep the person comfortable and call an ambulance. She didn't know whether the person had an illness. It was this experience that prompted her to write this article so others can be better prepared.

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