George Lopez, whose career spans television, film, and stand-up-comedy, established a foundation to help raise awareness for kidney health and organ donation.
George Lopez first learned he had kidney problems during a physical examination for his high school baseball team.
“Of the 25 guys on the team, I had to have my blood pressure checked three times,” Lopez said. “Even at 17, and in good physical condition, my blood pressure was elevated.”
The first signs
Like most teenagers, Lopez tried to ignore the problem and pass off the symptoms as exhaustion. “I ignored the signs and went on with my life,” he said. “The most critical aspect of kidney disease is that it shows up as fatigue, and it’s easy to blame on being tired or not getting enough sleep. Meanwhile, silently, the kidney’s function is decreasing.”
His biggest wake-up call came when he was unable to donate blood because of his kidneys. “I got a letter once telling me that I couldn’t donate anymore, but they didn’t say why,” he said. “Now I know it had to do with the function of my kidneys.”
Now, at 59 years old and with a stellar career encompassing film, television, and stand-up comedy, Lopez has dedicated himself to raising awareness about kidney disease with the George Lopez Foundation, which he founded in 2014.
Creating positive change
“The mission of the foundation is to create positive, permanent change for underprivileged children, adults, and military families, confronting challenges in education and health, as well as increasing community awareness about kidney disease and organ donation,” Lopez said.
Awareness of kidney health is critically low, particularly amongst young people. “Ninety-six percent of people with early kidney disease don’t know they have it,” Lopez said. “More than 110,000 people are waiting for a life-saving transplant and over 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month.”
Through the foundation, Lopez encourages people to register to become a living kidney donor to assist the thousands of people in need. “They can sign up when they get their driver’s license or visit donatelife.net, because 95 percent of Americans are in favor of being a donor, but only 58 percent are registered,” Lopez said. “Continually raising awareness helps promote the importance of living donors and organ donation.”
The foundation promotes kidney health awareness in other ways too. “Currently, we are partnering with Natera Inc., a diagnostics company dedicated to supporting kidney patients through advances genetic testing,” Lopez said. Another big event for the foundation is its annual George Lopez Celebrity Golf Classic, which helps send children to Kidney Camp, a week-long summer camp. The event was postponed this year due to COVID, but there are plans to resume next year if restrictions permit.
Lopez said that coming from a Latino family meant he avoided the doctor when he was growing up. “I came from a culture where health was looked at with fear from an early age,” he said. “I joke about not wanting to go to the doctor because ‘they might find something.’”
As he plans to resume his stand-up tour next year, he hopes to encourage his audiences to get regular health check-ups. “Latinos only go to the doctor when we are bleeding,” he said. “We forget about things internal. Fatigue is just fatigue.”
“The people who come to see me do stand-up rarely go to the doctor,” Lopez said. “I tell them, you need to go! You need to get your blood checked. That can tell you so much. That’s why I started the foundation, to raise awareness about kidney disease and the importance of kidney health and organ donation.”