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National Kidney Foundation of Louisiana - Affiliate History

Dr. Julio Figueroa came to New Orleans from the Cleveland Clinic to start a Program for treatment of End Stage Renal Failure at Ochsner Clinic in August 1965. At that time Tulane Medical School had a Transplant program supported in part by Federal Funds.  In his efforts to organize the Ochsner Program, he soon realized that without community support, none of the efforts being made in New Orleans would grow.  He had had some contact in Cleveland with the National Kidney Foundation Chapter there and had participated in efforts to raise funds for patient programs.  He spoke with some of the nephrologists in the city at the time and found out that nobody had demonstrated interest in starting a chapter of NKF.  Convinced of the need, he decided to pursue the idea.  His goal became broader realizing that education of the people in the city as well as research support was as important as his initial goal to help patients.

Dr. Figueroa approached Dr. Alton Ochsner with the idea and requested his help realizing that at the time his contacts were limited.  Dr. Ochsner graciously consented to help and personally introduced him to several community leaders, all of whom agreed to support the new Chapter with their names and financial assistance.

With the urging and support of Dr. Figueroa, Dr. Ochsner became the Affiliate’s first president.   Dr. Figueroa, serving as the Affiliate’s Executive Director, worked tirelessly and started immediately to recruit people to fill the other offices.  These people were all in one way or another associated with patients with ESRD.

Vera Sentilles worked at Boeing Corporation at the time.  Her son had just started dialysis.  Dr. Figueroa remembers her enthusiasm.  She worked very hard to convince Boeing Executives of the value to the community of a strong Kidney Foundation.  Eventually, the Boeing Corporation loaned the services of Vera to help start the office.  They agreed to pay her salary for one year.  The early years were very lean and very difficult.  Our main fundraiser was the Halloween candy sale.  All the volunteers including myself, my children and my wife used to go door to door selling candy.  We gradually expanded to do other fundraisers and with the help of the Turner family in Shreveport and the Gunn family in Monroe we began the expansion of the Chapter to include the entire state.

After 1 year as president, Dr. Ochsner stepped down and Dr. Figueroa became president, a position that he held for 10 years mainly because the Chapter was still a fledging organization and he did not want it to die. He continued to recruit volunteers and physicians and when the fear that the chapter was not a passing fancy and that this was not an Ochsner organization but a city and statewide concern, he convinced Dr. Frank Gonzalez to assume the presidency.

Several years later, the board paid homage to Dr Ochsner because without his unconditional support to Dr. Figueroa’s efforts the Kidney Foundation of Louisiana may not have been started and the renal community of New Orleans would have suffered.  Then Lieutenant Governor Jimmy Fitzmorris presented him a certificate of appreciation from the Kidney Foundation and the State of Louisiana.  Dr. Ochsner received many accolades in his life but he was especially appreciative of our organization recognizing his contribution.

Mr. Jay Wharton, Affiliate Executive Director from 1983 — 2003, describes his tenure at the Foundation as a time of growth and change: the changing Louisiana economy, i.e., oil booms and oil busts, the rise of legalized gambling (casinos and video poker), and the exodus of large industries from the state, all have led to changes in affiliate fund-raising and even volunteer bases.  The National Kidney Foundation of Louisiana has experienced more than a 600% increase in income since the early 1980s, with corresponding increases in volunteers and services provided.

The Board of Directors hired Torie Kranze as Executive Director in January 2004.  The first year of her tenure saw some small changes at the Foundation.  Staff duties changed, dedicated bequests were exhausted and the membership structure of the Foundation was streamlined.  All was going well.

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit South Louisiana.  All of the Foundation staff evacuated safely.  Staff meetings were held immediately post-Katrina in Baton Rouge.  The National Kidney Foundation Affiliates from across the country came to the immediate aid of the Affiliate staff:  sending monetary contributions, clothes, household items, gift cards, etc.  The New Orleans’ office suffered no flood damage and limited wind  damage – a few windows blown in/broken and ceiling tiles caved in.  However, the staff returned full-time to the offices October 10, 2006 and continued to offer programs and patient assistance to those across Louisiana.  In fact, the Affiliate distributed over $60,000 in immediate assistance grants to kidney patients affected by the Hurricanes.

Thanks to the strong leadership of Board of Directors, committed volunteers and staff, the Affiliate continues to meet the mission of the organization, “Making Lives Better” for kidney patients throughout Louisiana.

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