With one in five Indigenous Australians aged 18-years and over displaying indicators of chronic kidney disease according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, communities and health professionals are confronting a significant health crisis.
It’s something 27-year-old Tyrone (Ty) Gordon from Dubbo knows only too well. At just 19, Ty was admitted to hospital in agonising pain. It was kidney failure. Further, he was told that because of a genetic abnormality he’d only been born with one kidney and it was on its last legs.
“I had no time whatsoever; I went to the hospital with chest pains and had a bad sickness, and then they found my kidney had failed,” recalls Ty.
“My creatinine was like 1,500, up from 150 and they were wondering why I wasn’t dead yet.”
Creatinine is a chemical waste product that travels in the blood through the kidneys where it is filtered and passed on through the urine. When the kidney’s fail it begins building up to life threatening levels.
“That night they pumped four litres of blood into me and started dialysis four days later,” says Ty.
This was just the beginning of an 11th month ordeal that saw Ty wait almost one year for a kidney donor to be found.
The effects of this time are still with him, he says.
“Tell you the truth I would be dead if I was still on dialysis right now, it was so depressing I was 19 years old, all my friends were partying. I went through a rough time," he says.
A deceased anonymous donor made all the difference.
"It was the best thing that happened to me ever. I went from crying every day to smiling every day you know."
Now an accomplished Indigenous dancer who has toured the world, Ty just launched his own business in the Dubbo area that encourages young people to stay active while connecting with culture and country at the same time.
Almost nine out of ten Aboriginal and Torres Straight islander people with kidney disease are not aware they have it, according to the ABS.
“I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been, I train twice a day, I dance all day, this is the healthiest I have ever been ever,” he says.
His own experiences with kidney failure have also given him a painful awareness of the health issues confronting Indigenous communities.
Remote communities are particularly hard hit, with people there 20 times more likely than other Australians to be affected by end stage kidney disease, reported The Indigenous Health Bulletin in 2013.
“I think kidney health is the biggest killer of my people. The diet that my people are on now it’s got to stop, with kidney disease you can’t trace it, like with a heart issue you have a heart attack, with blood pressure you know you got symptoms, but with kidney failure you have no symptoms whatsoever 'til it is almost too late.
For Ty, prevention and awareness go hand. Indigenous people make up just 2.5 per cent of the Australian population, yet comprise 9 per cent of those entering into kidney replacement therapy every year, and almost nine out of ten Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people with kidney disease are not aware they have it, according to the ABS.
“I think people should be more aware of kidney failure you know, regular blood tests and all that stuff," he says.
“I was just this young, 17, 18-year-old out partying every weekend.
"That’s the thing - there is no awareness in schools before this stuff happens."