Pitt professor to stress education as new president of National Kidney Foundation

| Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, 11:58 p.m.

More than 26 million Americans have some form of kidney disease, and just 10 percent of them know it, according to the American Society of Nephrology.

In her new role as president of the National Kidney Foundation, Dr. Beth Piraino hopes to educate people about the disease and get them to think about prevention.

“We want to make sure there's an awareness of kidney disease like there is for breast cancer and mammographies, cholesterol and other illnesses. Kidney disease is very pervasive. A very high proportion of the country is at risk,” Piraino said.

Piraino, 63, of Squirrel Hill is a professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and the associate dean of admissions and financial aid at the university's School of Medicine. The foundation, according to its website, works on awareness, prevention and treatment of kidney disease for hundreds of thousands of health care professionals, millions of patients and those at risk.

Foundation members appointed her to a two-year term as president in October. She is in the midst of a six-year term on the foundation's board of directors.

Piraino said many people don't realize how chronic medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity can lead to ongoing and sometimes serious kidney problems.

The foundation, she said, is working on disease-awareness education. It's producing YouTube videos with patients talking about how the disease has affected them.

She said the foundation will partner with primary care physicians to increase awareness. She also wants a stronger push for simple tests measuring kidney function and for proteins that indicate risk or early presence of the disease, and better labeling of food so people can make healthier choices.

“We need to identify problems much earlier and prevent them,” Piraino said. “It's pretty ugly to have kidney disease.”

She's also an advocate of peritoneal dialysis, which can be done at home, usually by the patient. She said only about 7 percent of those on dialysis opt for home treatment.

“It's really an underappreciated and under-recognized choice,” Piraino said.

Dr. Thomas Kleyman, chief of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine's Renal-Electrolyte Division, said that over the past 25 years, Piraino and her colleagues have developed “the largest home dialysis program in Western Pennsylvania.

“Beth is an extraordinarily talented physician and a compassionate physician,” Kleyman said. “She has a lot to offer the (kidney foundation).”

Piraino said she's an advocate of changes by the United Network of Organ Sharing that will better inform patients about kidney transplants versus dialysis. Critics said it's been a long-standing problem that dialysis patients aren't told that they could add about 10 years to their lives via transplant.

“The longer you're on dialysis before a transplant, the odds are not as good. A transplant within a year of beginning dialysis, there are good odds,” she said.

Piraino has a nice mix of clinical skills, said Dr. Joseph Vassalotti, chief medical officer for the kidney foundation and associate clinical professor of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

“Having her as an expert will translate well into improving awareness and improving prevention and treatment,” he said.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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