Martha's Vineyard will be abuzz from Thursday August 22nd to Sunday August 25th, when On The Vine launches its inaugural four-day music and entertainment festival benefiting kidney disease research. Headlining the event is the iconic songstress and kidney disease survivor Natalie Cole, who will perform at a star-studded extravaganza on Saturday night, along with R&B singer-songwriter and musician Kenny "BabyFace" Edmonds. The evening will be hosted by comedian and actor Richard Lewis (from the hit comedy series, Curb Your Enthusiasm) and will include a silent auction of celebrity items.
The four days of entertainment opens Thursday night with a showcase featuring the legendary Smokey Robinson and three-time Grammy Award winner Angie Stone. Throughout the weekend, audiences will enjoy a stellar lineup of live performances by an array of artists including, Grammy Award winning violinist Miri Ben-Ari, and jazz greats Kahil El Zabar, Roy Hargrove and James Carter.
Slated to be an annual affair, On The Vine was created to generate awareness and funding support for the groundbreaking kidney disease research of Dr. Karl Skorecki. As the first step to prevention and cure, he and his team of researchers at Rambam Hospital have isolated the genetic markers that are linked to contracting the disease. They are, "about five years and four million dollars away from a cure for kidney disease," according to Michele Segelnick, executive director of American Friends of Rambam.
The charitable event is the brainchild of Dennis Shortt who is collaborating with the American Friends of Rambam, a non-profit organization formed to support the Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa, Israel and Dr. Skorecki's research to eradicate kidney disease -- a condition that affects African Americans with significantly greater frequency than other groups.
A half a world away in New York City's, East Harlem neighborhood, a petite, brown figure pushes a cart along the streets. An elderly woman -- her cart overflowing with empty soda cans -- looks at first glance to be one of the homeless who troll the city's trash cans for sustenance. Upon closer inspection, her immaculate appearance, complete with latex gloves to protect her hands, confirms otherwise.
"I am collecting cans to pay for my dialysis... it helps cover the costs of my treatments," she says.
She has been living with kidney disease for ten years and says her medical insurance pays for 80 percent of her treatment costs. The remaining 20 percent, she has to pay out of pocket. At 65 years old, and living on a fixed income, she collects cans to defray the costs of her medical care -- a process made easier by the relationships she has developed with local store owners, who save their daily collection of empty soda cans for her to pick up around closing time each evening.
Forty million Americans have kidney disease, of which almost 12 million are Black. African Americans are 3.5 times more likely to suffer from kidney disease and while they account for only 14 percent of the population, they make up 30 percent of all patients treated for kidney failure. Of the 580,000 Americans on dialysis due to kidney failure, African Americans constitute 187,000...nearly a third. African American patients often wait up to ten years before getting a match for a transplant because there are fewer potential donors for Black people.
Interview segment with Dr. Skorecki
What sparked your interest in medicine?
I find the connection of the mind-body-emotion compelling. Even as a child I always understood there was much more to the world than meets the eyes...mysteries beyond our comprehension. Being a doctor sometimes limits creativity. Research on the other hand, reminds us how much we do not know and it is has been a way for me to combine my love of medicine with creativity.
What inspired you to choose kidney disease as an area of focus in your research?
While working at a Boston hospital, I observed that African Americans had more incidences of kidney disease and over time I became friendly with some of the patients who would come in for treatment. These experiences inspired me to focus on finding the causes of this disease. I was fortunate that I came along when the technology was advanced enough to allow me to pursue research in this area because there was a time when we did not have the means to engage in research at this level. We now have tools that are sophisticated enough to help us begin to understand the roots of this disparity. Once the tools became available, I felt driven and compelled to begin researching the causes of kidney disease.
Do you get personal satisfaction from your work?
I cannot think of anything more gratifying than being part of this solution...to help people be healthy and feel better and to meet people from all over the world that are interested in this work.
Visit www.onthevineevents.com to purchase On The Vine music festival tickets.
To make a donation in support of kidney disease research for a cure, text KDR to 56512.
On The Vine is a Heard It Through The Grapevine Production created and executive produced by Dennis Shortt, chief creative officer of Concretemixx22, a Chicago based touch marketing agency.