What made you want to become an Ambassador?
My husband has stage 3 kidney disease, so I understand what it's like to actually live with this disease. I felt everyone deserved to have the knowledge and understanding of how to easily adapt to a kidney-friendly diet, while still getting to enjoy great tasting food. There weren't many voices coming from a professional cooking background. I wanted to step into that role.
How has being an Ambassador helped you?
Being an Ambassador has helped open my eyes to the various treatments that patients receive. Some people have dietary restrictions, yet others do not. For example, a student in one of my classes, in stage 1 CKD, was given restrictions, while another in stage 4, was not. This has made me aware that there are doctors who continue to dismiss the idea that diet plays a crucial role in treatment.
This has also helped me establish a baseline for ingredient amounts used in recipes. From there, people can adjust as needed, to fit their restriction levels.
It has helped me get information to people who need it. I love seeing that moment when they light up and say, "Yes! This is the information I have needed for so long," or "I didn't know that!"
It has helped me be grateful for the direction my life has taken, in that it has given me opportunities to help others and deliver information that has been sorely needed for so long.
What have you learned from being an Ambassador?
I have learned that there are so many individuals struggling to keep a healthy CKD diet. There is so much information people are not aware of when it comes to food.
My brother is a nurse at our local hospital. He said the number of people coming in for kidney issues related to diet is frightening. What's worse is they don't have the information, knowledge or tools to change that, so they frequently end up returning to the hospital. This has made me realize how crucial it is for patients to have instruction on diets, beyond their restriction numbers.
Not everyone can or wants to be a "foodie," so people like me are here to help. I have learned that the more I help others, the more passionate I become about helping.
Why should others become an Ambassador?
If you feel strongly about something, pursue that. Be an Ambassador to help continue awareness, strive for improvements and be the voice for someone else. There are so many facets to living with CKD, and not all patients have an advocate.
If we collectively put our voices together to fight kidney disease, we could create a beautiful chorus that others may begin listening to.
What is something you've learned about kidney disease and dialysis that you wish you knew a lot sooner?
Learning about CKD doesn't end. I continue to learn and apply that new knowledge to my recipes and educational material. I am always adapting.
How would you like to stay connected to other Ambassadors?
Having a crazy schedule, I must find time when I can. For me, using the private Facebook group for Ambassadors is the easiest way to connect. This also allows others that same benefit.
What do you wish elected officials knew about dialysis patients?
I wish they understood the toll it takes on a person. I wish they understood the emotional, mental and physical difficulties. I wish they understood that organ donation needs to be front and center.
I wish they knew the financial burdens that not only come with dialysis, but also with dietary changes. Healthy products are not always cheap!
Do you have any advice for newly diagnosed kidney patients?
Do not feel you need to make changes to your diet within 24 hours. Take control of your diet, learn, research and understand how to best implement any restrictions you have been given. Information isn't always handed to you, so be assertive and take an active role.
Get to know your ingredients. Check out Kidney Kitchen for great recipes, information about certain important nutrients, a sample grocery shopping list and more.
I have written a book that can help make the transition to kidney-friendly eating much easier! It provides tips on meal planning, shopping, adapting recipes, cooking, seasoning and more, and includes a handful of flavor-filled recipes.
How can family members or other caregivers help their loved one with kidney disease?
Kidney disease can feel overwhelming at times. Patients need someone to lean on.
The biggest issue many people face is that families tend to forget about the restrictions their loved ones have. Holidays and gatherings were a struggle for us when my husband was first diagnosed with kidney disease. We decided to host these events so we could control the menu. If we're not hosting, we bring kidney-friendly food with us.
If we're going out, we research a restaurant's nutrition list first to see if my husband can eat there. If not, we pick a different restaurant.
What are some interesting facts about yourself that you'd like to share?
I used to be a professional paranormal investigator and was on an episode of My Ghost Story. My husband was diagnosed with CKD as a few friends and I were putting together a business plan to open a health center. I had just completed certifications for entrepreneurship, human resources and business management. My plans changed when he was diagnosed. I stepped away from the health center, went to culinary school so I could learn to make great tasting, kidney-friendly meals, and have not looked back. I especially love putting new twists on historical recipes!
What do you like most about being a culinary consultant for AKF?
I feel like everyone at AKF is a family. Everyone is respectful, caring, open, positive and honest. I love that AKF is an organization that sees itself as a piece in the puzzle and is willing to join hands with others in order to move forward and make positive changes for CKD patients. AKF is about people, not profit.
You say helping others adapt to kidney-friendly eating is a passion. Where can we find your work?
You can check out some of my recipes, plus tips and tricks, on Facebook. I post pictures of the foods I have tested for AKF and other dishes I've created myself on Instagram. My website has a bit more about me and my book, and the things I'm working on.