Social worker Shenell Bell ready for her third HR Kidney Walk
When walkers gather on May 19 at the 24th Street Park at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront for the Hampton Roads Kidney Walk, it will be especially meaningful for Shenell Bell.
"Prior to the age of two, I was a pretty healthy child,” said Bell, 29.
But when she was two, her parents, Lonnell and Sheila Bell, noticed that something wasn’t quite right with their usually happy and normally healthy little girl.
They took her to Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth for an examination after noticing that she was swollen, not as responsive as usual and had a change in her urine.
She was soon transported to Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, where tests were conducted to determine what caused the sudden changes in her health.
“They ran a series of tests on me," Shenell said, a Suffolk resident and Norfolk Public Schools social worker. "They tested me for cancer but they ended up finding out that my kidneys shut down.”
The shutdown was brought on by Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) contracted through what was suspected to be food poisoning.
“They didn’t think I would live to see age three because Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome was very rare,” Shenell said of those scary first days of her diagnosis.
Shenell persevered and underwent dialysis for those few months after her initial diagnosis, and again at the age of four, after a relapse of kidney failure
From the ages of four to 12, she was hospitalized and received transfusions and beneath-the-skin port placements to help with her treatment.
“I’m still here,” she said, reflecting on her battle against kidney disease.
A 2007 Nansemond River High School graduate, Shenell attended Norfolk State University, earning her Bachelor of Social Work in 2011 and her Master of Social Work in 2014.
She knows that many people are not as lucky as she has been.
According to the American Kidney Fund's website, www.kidneyfund.org, 30 million Americans are living with the disease; 650,000 of those affected are living with kidney failure, depending on dialysis to survive.
While dialysis helped Shenell, it does not help every person living with kidney disease.
“It is imperative that if you want to be an organ donor, you do so, because it does save lives.” - Shenell Bell, a kidney disease survivor
“It is imperative that if you want to be an organ donor, you do so, because it does save lives,” she said.
Shenell said that those who wish to become organ donors should first talk with their physician to make sure they are healthy enough to be placed on the organ donor registry.
Then, next steps can be taken to register with the organizations responsible for individual organ donation.
The average wait time varies for donors to be matched with those in need varies, but the American Kidney Fund reports that the average wait time for a donor kidney is five years.
Once that organ match is made, Bell said that the gift of an organ is “giving the person a chance for a longer and healthier life.”
Shenell became involved with the kidney walk after a co-worker was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2015.
“She asked me to be the keynote speaker for the event that year,” she said.
In 2016 and 2017, Shenell led a team of walkers, raising awareness and money in support of the National Kidney Foundation.
“This will be my third year doing a team for the Hampton Roads Kidney Walk,” she said.
While early detection can help treat the disease, there are also steps people can take to prevent it.
“Exercising, eating a diet low in sodium, drinking lots of water, and abstaining from heavy drinking and smoking,” she said, can reduce a person's risk of kidney failure.
She also urges parents to watch their children for any signs of kidney disease, such as swelling and changes in the color of their urine.
This year’s walk is still in need of walkers, sponsors, volunteers, and donors. Of the $78,000 needed, 18 percent of that has been raised with the total now at $14,687.
Shenell reminds the public that “the walk is family friendly and there will be activities for the kids.”
As for the future, Shenell would like to see kidney walks expand across the nation over the next five years, while emphasizing education, early detection and treatment of the disease.
“I plan to continue volunteering to raise awareness for both youth and adults who have been impacted by kidney disease,” she said.
Walkers may sign-up to participate on their own or with a team. Anyone may walk in honor of or in memory of someone they know who was affected by the kidney disease.
To sign-up, visit www.kidneywalk.org.
Registration is free, but teams and individual walkers are encouraged to set a fundraising goal then share that with their network of people to raise the funds.
The walk is a part of a larger network of walks nationwide, with a local
fundraising foal of $78,000. Funds raised will be used for education and disease prevention programs as well as an eventual cure.
In-kind donations, such as healthy snacks and sports drinks, as well as, sports and health-related vendors, are also needed for the event. If interested, email Dana Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 804-288-8342, extension 724.
A 2007 Nansemond River High School graduate, Shenell Bell attended
Norfolk State University, earning her Bachelor of Social Work in 2011 and her Master of Social Work in 2014.
Shenelll Bell when she was a little girl.