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Focusing on prevention
Costly treatments can be averted with early screening, detection.
By Carrie Teegardin cteegardin@ajc.com

When health care experts ponder ways to reduce medical spending by improving quality, they have people like Alvieno Stinson in mind.

 

The 47-year-old Sandy Springs man has been living with kidney failure since 2000. It’s an expensive condition requiring dialysis treatments three times a week. But there’s a good chance that Stinson could still be working in technology and developing his interest in broadcasting had the nation’s approach to health care focused more on prevention than treatment.

 

“There have to be prevention methods, so people don’t find out when it’s too late,” said Stinson, who takes every opportunity to let people know that ignoring a painless condition can change their lives forever.

 

A decade ago, Stinson was married, with kids, had a house in the north Fulton suburbs, a job working as a systems analyst and an interview-format show on public access TV. He also had high blood pressure. But it wasn’t something he worried about, until he started gaining weight.

 

“When I did go to the doctor, I was in end-stage renal failure,” he said. “The doctor was telling me, ‘Your kidneys will be failing in six months.’ And I was thinking — you must be out of your mind.”

 

At that point, the damage was already done. The condition could not be reversed. Before long, he was on disability, on dialysis and watching his career and marriage fall apart.

 

He tells people now, whenever he gets the chance, that this probably didn’t have to happen to him — or to thousands of others.

 

The gurus of health care economics agree. Emory University’s Ken Thorpe, an expert on health care spending, says 80 percent of health care spending goes to care for 20 percent of the population. And many of those people have conditions that are largely preventable. Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, heart disease — conditions that can be prevented or controlled — are all major drivers of rising Medicare costs, Thorpe said. Most patients with kidney failure — including Stinson — are covered by Medicare.

 

The portion of Medicare recipients with diabetes alone has doubled since 1987 to 22 percent. Thorpe has estimated that billions of health care dollars could be saved if the government simply set up weight loss programs for baby boomers in their early 60s who have higher than normal blood glucose levels, which often develops into full diabetes.

 

Stinson wrote a short book, “Beyond the Barriers,” to help other people learn to live with kidney failure. And Stinson said he’s done just that by building a solid relationship with his family and focusing on a new professional calling. He earned a master’s degree in public administration and nonprofit management in 2011. He is now working on a Ph.D. with the goal of building an organization called BTB Global to help eliminate health disparities. He said African-Americans especially need to be urged to ignore myths and fears about medicine and get the screenings they need to stay as healthy as possible.

 

“A productive individual, when they have kidney failure and are in stage 4, many times they can’t deliver the way they used to,” Stinson said. “If we did these preventive things, a valuable citizen could continue contributing to society and their community. This is what we need.”

Alvieno Stinson

Nurse Adrienne Fulwood (right) monitors Alvieno Stinson during one of his 4½-hour dialysis treatments he receives three times a week at Renal Care Partners in Sandy Springs. Stinson experienced kidney failure a decade ago when he was in his 30s and has been on dialysis ever since. Phil Skinner pskinner@ajc.com

Alvieno Stinson

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