Freeway

Philadelphia rapper Freeway is advocating for kidney health. — SUBMITTED PHOTO

Philadelphia rapper Freeway was performing at the Made in America concert in September 2015 when he started to feel sick.

A week later, he wound up in the hospital, where doctors told him his kidneys were failing. Doctors cut a plastic tube into his chest and hooked him up for emergency dialysis.

Freeway, whose given name is Leslie Pridgen, underwent dialysis for three years as he waited for a new kidney.

“There were days when I wanted to cry,” Freeway said of undergoing the process of having waste and unwanted water eliminated from his blood. “Dialysis is not an easy thing to deal with.”

Now that Freeway has a new kidney and he’s feeling better, the 40-year-old rapper has become an ambassador for the National Kidney Foundation.

“I feel like it’s my job and my duty to spread awareness so people won’t be in the same position that I was in,” Freeway said.

“My biggest thing is just being aware. If I would have (known), I would have taken different steps and made better choices so I wouldn’t have ended up in that position.”

One in seven people in the U.S. are affected by kidney disease, said Andrea Giannini, development manager for the National Kidney Foundation.

“It’s referred to as the silent killer because no symptoms present themselves until somebody is already in kidney failure,” Giannini said. “We have a slogan that is ‘Heart Your Kidneys’ and that is because we don’t feel like the kidneys get as much love as some of the other organs in the body. We’re trying to make sure that people know what their kidneys do and that they are paying attention to them.”

African Americans are three times more likely than whites to develop kidney failure, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Freeway, who has discussed his health issues on his albums “Free Will” and “Think Free,” will share his story of dealing with kidney disease on Sunday at the National Kidney Foundation’s annual Kidney Walk at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

More than 1,500 kidney patients, kidney donors, kidney recipients, friends, family and supporters are expected to participate in the walk.

“This my first kidney walk with the new kidney, so I’m just so excited about it,” Freeway said.

“I’ve been in a lot of kidney walks and this is the first one where I’m actually a transplant recipient so it’s a great milestone to get to this point.”

Freeway said he felt chronically fatigued for several years before he was diagnosed with kidney failure.

“At first, I just thought it was because I travel a lot and not getting a lot of rest and then it became a point in time, that I knew it was more than that,” he recalled.

“So I was going back and forth to the doctors to figure it out.”

Doctors diagnosed Freeway with diabetes and high blood pressure in 2012. At that time, Freeway tried to change his diet, but fast food was often the only thing available for him to eat late at night after his performances or time in the studio.

“I was running around with three of the leading risk factors for kidney failure and I was unaware of it,” said Freeway, who was a key member of Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella label in the 2000s.

Freeway got a kidney transplant in February.

Since then, he said, “All my labs are coming back good and I feel great.”

ajones@phillytrib.com (215) 893-5747

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