Managing kidney disease, especially kidney failure, often requires you to plan ahead and be prepared. Going to a restaurant? You may need to check the menu ahead of time to make sure they have options that will fit with your kidney-friendly food and fluid plan. Taking a vacation out of town? If you are living with kidney failure, you will most likely need to make arrangements to receive dialysis treatments at your destination or to bring your at-home dialysis equipment with you. Working late? You may need to bring your immunosuppressant medications with you to the office if you are living with a kidney transplant, so you do not miss a dose.
So, when an unpredictable natural disaster strikes, it can be particularly devastating or hard to navigate for people living with kidney disease. A recent study showed that people on dialysis were more likely to die in the month following a hurricane compared with people who were not exposed to these storms (after adjusting for demographic and socioeconomic factors). There are steps you can take to prepare as much as you can, but some disasters are bigger and more damaging than expected, which can disrupt services you rely on in your community – like access to electricity, clean water, shelter or public transportation.
That is why the American Kidney Fund (AKF) created its Disaster Relief Grant Program nearly 30 years ago. This program is the nation's only rapid-response system that provides emergency financial assistance to people affected by a natural disaster who are living on dialysis or are recent kidney transplant recipients. The grants are offered on first-come, first-serve basis to help affected members of the kidney community cover expenses related to lost medications and special kidney diet foods; temporary housing and transportation to treatment; and replacement clothing and personal essentials that were lost due to the natural disaster or the need to evacuate with short notice.
Unlike other AKF financial assistance programs, the Disaster Relief Grant Program is not available at any time. Instead, this program is activated only after a major disaster occurs and it is determined people in affected areas need help. AKF keeps tabs on forecasted disasters to ensure a quick response when they happen. The areas that are considered affected by a disaster are determined by information reported by the dialysis community and federal disaster declarations. AKF then works with the Kidney Community Emergency Response coalition and the National Forum of ESRD Networks to determine what level of need there is for assistance within those areas. If the funds are available, AKF then opens up the grant program to receive applications.
AKF first offered these emergency grants in Jan. 1994 after a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit Northridge, Calif. Fifty-eight people died and thousands were injured in this earthquake, which also caused major damage to buildings and highway passages as well as people's homes.
Since then, AKF has activated the Disaster Relief Grant Program for dozens of disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, floods, wildfires and large tornadoes. Over the years, the program has been made possible by generous corporate and individual support, and since 2007, AKF has provided over $2 million in emergency financial assistance to approximately 15,000 people across the U.S. and in U.S. territories including Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Northern Marianna Islands.
The majority of AKF's Disaster Relief Grants have been to help after a natural disaster. However, there have been two notable exceptions when it was activated for other kinds of disasters. The first was in 2001 when we provided grants to dialysis centers in New York affected by the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The second was in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic created the greatest emergency for people living with kidney disease that AKF has seen in our half century of service to the community.
For the latter, we launched a version of the Disaster Relief Grant Program called the Coronavirus Emergency Fund in March 2020, just as the nation was moving into lockdown. Not surprisingly, we were immediately overwhelmed with applications for assistance. By 3:30 p.m. on the first day, the initial $300,000 we had allocated from our budget for these emergency grants was spoken for — an unprecedented volume of demand for our assistance. By the second day we had a waitlist more than double the funds we had set aside. Fortunately, thanks to the generosity of more than 4,500 donors and 20 partner foundations and corporations, we provided nearly 13,000 people with over $3.1 million in grants!
AKF has also enhanced the Disaster Relief Grant Program through a recent partnership with AdheaRx, whose AI-powered communication technology will allow us more quickly reach and help people after these events. When a natural disaster strikes, we can send a message through AdheaRx to people we have served in the past in impacted areas offering disaster relief resources and encouraging them to share information about their needs in the wake of the disaster.
Unfortunately, natural disasters are occurring more frequently. Fortunately, AKF will continue to offer help to people with kidney disease who are impacted by these disasters with our Disaster Relief Grant Program.