Seating at the Tic Toc restaurant at Macy's, Downtown, must have involved some divine intervention the day that Clarice Johnson happened to occupy the table next to Donna Wolfson's.
She's pretty sure of that, anyway.
Ms. Johnson was worrying about her son, who had been diagnosed with kidney failure. The family felt overwhelmed and clueless on how to cope. Ms. Wolfson, there with a friend, was dropping words such as kidney and dialysis in conversation.
"My ears perked up," said Ms. Johnson, so she leaned over and asked if they had information that could help her son and the family.
That was several years ago. Her 41-year-old son, Abeid Johnson, has since had a kidney transplant, and she is grateful to Jack Silverstein, president of the Western Pennsylvania Kidney Support Groups organization, and his wife (and secretary for the organization), Ms. Wolfson, for helping them through the experience.
Now, Ms. Johnson hopes to provide the same kind of help to others in the form of a support group targeted to serve city sections such as the Hill District, the East End and the North Side.
The group, scheduled to start meeting the second Sunday of every month at Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church on Bryn Mawr Road, will be the eighth for the Western Pennsylvania nonprofit.
There's a need for information in the African-American community, which is at-risk for kidney disease as a result of a mix of factors from genetics to diet, speakers at the kick-off event held Sunday at the church emphasized. For example, research has shown a small genetic change helpful in resisting disease spread by insects in Africa also has been shown to increase risk of kidney disease.
The new support group is meant to serve everyone. "This is not limited to the African-American community," Ms. Johnson said. "Anyone is welcome. But we realize there is a need."
There seemed to be interest Sunday, when Beth Piraino, a kidney specialist and professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh who also is serving a term as president of the National Kidney Foundation, opened the church meeting hall floor to questions. The event drew about 40 people.
One woman asked if recognizable symptoms might identify kidney disease early. There aren't many, and often they are the same symptoms triggered by other things, Dr. Piraino said. "It really is one of those diseases that's rather silent," she said, recommending people ask their doctors to do relatively simple urine and blood tests that can identify the problem.
Other questions touched on how early in life should people be tested, whether soy or almond milk was better for those with the disease and whether foam in urine was a sign. "That's one of the few signs that you might have," Dr. Piraino acknowledged. When the questions kept coming on that subject, she advised everyone not to panic, setting off a round of laughter.
The Western Pennsylvania kidney support groups go back as far as the mid-1990s when the first was started in Greensburg, Mr. Silverstein said, although the administrative structure has changed. The nonprofit was incorporated in 2010, when there were four groups set up around the area.
Now, he said, there are about 400 members total and a push is on to set up additional groups in Erie and in the Altoona area. The challenge is to find support leaders, like Ms. Johnson, who have the time and interest to take on running the groups.
Earlier this month, the organization was honored with a community organization award from the Allegheny County Medical Society Foundation for its work to address a community health issue.
Teresa F. Lindeman: email@example.com or at 412-263-2018.