Kidney Challenge

The Kidney Challenge calls on people to speak up about kidney disease. Kidney disease is the ninth leading cause of death in the United States — killing more than breast cancer or prostate cancer.  Yet it receives comparatively little attention.  The Kidney Challenge seeks to change this.

The challenge is simple: speak up about kidney disease in one concrete way.  Start a conversation. Send a tweet. Participate in a National Kidney Foundation event.  In isolation, these activities may seem small, but collectively, they can make a significant difference — and save lives.  Or, for maximum impact, you can do a bigger challenge that tests your limits.

In 2015, Kidney Challenge co-founder James Goodnow committed to speaking up for kidney disease — literally.  He started training for the International Speech contest, the largest public speaking contest in the world, even though he has never participated in a speech contest. The event has over 30,000 contestants from over 130 countries. After a seven-month competition, the winner is crowned the World Champion of Public Speaking. Each speech Goodnow gives in the contest will include a kidney disease reference in an effort to draw attention to the epidemic.

Kidney Disease

Approximately 26 million Americans have kidney disease, but many don’t know it.  It’s an invisible killer.  A simple blood and urine test is all that’s needed to screen for the disease, but the lack of public discourse on the topic continues to lead to many preventable deaths.

There are many symptoms that are red flags that your kidneys are in distress. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the indicators that there may be a problem include:

  • Persistent nausea or vomiting
  • Sudden onset fatigue or muscle weakness
  • Bodily swelling and increased water retention
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Shortness of breath from daily, non-strenuous activities such as walking

Because many of these symptoms are similar to those that present themselves with other illnesses, many people don’t see them as alarming enough to seek medical treatment. But visiting your doctor if you’re having one or more of these symptoms can truly be lifesaving, especially if you have a preexisting condition that increases your risk for developing kidney disease.

Doctors use a few different tests for detecting kidney disease. The most common additions ways of testing for kidney illness are blood and urine tests, which look for indicators such as atypical levels of protein and creatine. If these initial tests come back as abnormal, your doctor may choose to order a CT scan or MRI of your abdomen, or perform a kidney biopsy to test the tissue.

It may seem scary to go in for a test to determine if you have kidney issues, but remember, the sooner it is detected, the better the odds that it can be treated and permanent, irreversible damage can be avoided.

Goodnow’s Diagnosis

In 2013, Goodnow was diagnosed with kidney disease. After gaining nearly 25 pounds of water weight in a week, he was admitted to the hospital. Fortunately, he is one of the lucky ones: A kidney biopsy confirmed he had a treatable and controllable form of the disease. He was put on immunosuppressant medication, which he remained on until January 1, 2015 — the day he began his formal training for the International Speech Contest.

First Challenge: International Speech Contest


Psychology Today reports that humans fear public speaking more than death.  Run by Toastmasters International, the International Speech Contest is the largest of its type in the world. The winner of the contest must place first in each of six rounds of competition. Even a single second place, and the contestant is eliminated. Speeches can be on any topic, but winning speeches are typically inspirational or motivational in nature.  Time for the speech is limited to seven minutes with a 30 second grace period. The winner not only received the title of the World Champion of Public Speaking, but has the global stage for sharing messages. The competition begins in late January or early February and ends in August.

Of the 30,000 contestants, those who advance to later rounds are rigorous in their training. Much like a competitive athlete, the speakers train daily. Past winners have delivered over 10 speeches per week in front of live audiences preparing. As a working father of two, Goodnow is unable to undertake such a time-intensive speaking schedule. For Goodnow, success is not defined by how far he goes in the contest. Instead, it’s defined by how much attention he can bring to the kidney disease and the need for preventative screening.  With the first International contest under his belt, he looks forward to continuing his challenge of working toward the goal of having the largest stage possible to share his message.

The Kidney Challenge

While Goodnow is undertaking the first Kidney Challenge, it is broader than his attempts. It’s a call to everyone to speak up and give voice to a silent killer of kidney disease.  For each person who participates, the challenge could be different. Those who choose to take the kidney challenge are encouraged to share their stories on Kidney Challenge social media pages and elsewhere. The whole purpose is to start a discussion and get people talking about kidney disease.

Learn More or Donate

To learn more about kidney disease, how it is diagnosed, or to donate to research efforts, visit the National Kidney Foundation website at Kidney.org.

In Goodnow’s home state of Arizona, you may also visit the website for the National Kidney Foundation of Arizona, where Goodnow is a board member, at AZKidney.org.

To participate in or follow the success of the Kidney Challenge, visit our Kidney Challenge Facebook page, or our page on the National Kidney Foundation of Arizona’s website.

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