From NYC teacher to international health advocate
Posted August 9, 2016 by Liza Frenette
Gail Rae-Garwood talks and writes all the time about slowing down — but she’s not referring to her lifestyle speed. She’s talking about putting the brakes on Chronic Kidney Disease.
When this retired high school English teacher and United Federation of Teachers member was diagnosed with CKD in 2008, she was shocked. A new doctor detected unhealthy levels for kidney functioning in routine blood and urine workups. She was sent to a nephrologist. “I didn’t know what it was and what it meant,” she said. “I was terrified and thought I had nowhere to turn.”
She began researching and finding ways to manage this inflammatory disease through a specialized, calibrated diet, exercise, stress reduction and proper sleep. Then she realized she wanted to help others steer toward solutions. Rae-Garwood writes a weekly blog, a daily post and has published four books designed for people with CKD. She answers questions from around the world. She has spoken at coffee shops, Kiwanis Clubs, independent bookstores and senior citizen centers. She’s been a guest blogger for the American Kidney Fund, which promotes prevention activities and educational resources, and provides financial assistance for clinical research and for kidney patients who need help with dialysis and transplants.
While she is careful about getting enough sleep and eating right, Rae-Garwood does not let any waking time slip by unnoticed. She has been interviewed on Online with Andrea, The Edge Podcast, Working with Chronic Illness, and Improve Your Kidney Help. She has been interviewed for the Wall Street Journal's Health Matters and The Center for Science in The Public Interest.
Her action is not all talk. She also puts on the sneakers: In addition to her regular walks for health, she hustled up a team for the National Kidney Foundation of Arizona Kidney Walk.
By now, even her heart is probably kidney shaped.
Rae-Garwood also organized several talks at the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, not far from where she lives in Arizona.
Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and Hawaiians are more prone to CKD, she said. “I wanted to bring awareness everywhere I could.”
Education is vital because so many people are unaware they even have the disease. Rae-Garwood is one of many who did not have any symptoms. “Many, like me, never experienced any noticeable symptoms. Many, like me, may have had high blood pressure (hypertension) for years before (CKD) was diagnosed. Yet, high blood pressure and diabetes are the two leading causes of CKD.”
And CKD, left unchecked and untreated, can wreak havoc and death. According to the American Association of Kidney Patients, “The increase of kidney disease is now reaching epidemic proportions. The rates are even higher among racial and ethnic minorities. Chronic kidney disease can progress to end-stage renal disease and the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant.”
Rae-Garwood’s goal is to educate people and help them with their health. “You can slow down the progress of the decline of kidney function,” she said.
And she is the very living proof that people want to see.
“I have been spending a lot of time on my health and I'm happy to say it's been paying off. There are five stages. I've stayed at the middle one for nine years and even improved my health. That's what this is about. People don't know about CKD. They get diagnosed. They think they're going to die. Everybody dies, but it doesn't have to be of CKD. I am downright passionate about people knowing this,” she said.
After her first book was published, Rae-Garwood received an e-mail from a doctor in India. He said his patients were extremely poor and could not afford the book – yet the information she wrote about was so important to them.
“He asked how I could help. I thought: ‘I could write a blog!’” she said. Her efforts began by putting her book chapters on the blog, piece by piece. The doctor in India printed them and gave them to his patients. Newer blog posts have more up-to-date information, keeping patients informed.
Her informational blog has 106,000 readers from 107 different countries, she said, based on a report from WordPress. On her blog, Rae-Garwood answers questions from readers, lists books about CKD, reports on events, lists support groups, etc. She writes about things that have worked for her, such as using a stationary bike and stretching bands, and walking — and cautions readers to seek advice from their doctor.
The year-round outdoor climate in Arizona helps Rae-Garwood stay active. While she loved living on Staten Island, she said she owned an old Victorian that she could not afford to fix up in retirement. With an arthritis condition, she also noticed that she was “becoming a bit of a shut-in in the winter.” So she moved to the southwest two months after retiring.
Rae-Garwood is not letting any of that sunshine go to waste. Since her 2008 diagnosis. she’s been driving on a steady road to wellness and spreading awareness like a modern day Johnny Appleseed. In her retirement from teaching, she has devoted much time to writing, speaking and teaching about how to thwart the disease. The skills she developed in 32 years as a teacher in Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens and Manhattan have served her well in this new role as health advocate.
Her own four self-published books are “SlowItDownCKD 2015,” “The Book of Blogs, Moderate Stage Kidney Disease Part 1,” “The Book of Blogs, Moderate Stage Kidney Disease Part2” and “What Is It and How Did I Get It? Early Stage Chronic Kidney Disease.” The books are available online at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.
For more information on the disease and this active, 69-year-old retiree, check out http://gailraegarwood.wordpress.com.