Though she works on TV, KXAS/Channel 5 anchor-reporter Kristi Nelson is a private person. She'd rather tell other people's stories than her own. But she's making an important exception next week.
Beginning Monday, NBC 5 will air Kristi's Gift, a three-part series about Nelson's decision to donate a kidney to her 69-year-old mother. The series will air during the 10 p.m. newscast as well as during NBC 5 First at Four, the 4 p.m. newscast that she co-anchors.
The series was Nelson's idea, though she had to overcome some initial reluctance.
"When I first started thinking about what I would do with my mother, it never occurred to me to make it a story," said Nelson, who turned 40 last Saturday. "It's uncomfortable. I'm not one of those people who seeks the spotlight. I know I work in the spotlight, but that's not my personality naturally. But I really believe that there's a good reason to share my personal experience."
Nelson's goals are to educate people about organ donation -- especially about being a living donor -- and about kidney disease. According to the National Kidney Foundation, 26 million Americans have chronic kidney disease, and millions of others are at risk, especially African-Americans and Latinos.
Lack of knowledge
"What I'm learning is, a lot of folks don't even know what kidney disease is, or the risks," Nelson said. "I really do want people to understand and to understand that diabetes and high blood pressure are the two main factors and understand that minorities are the most at risk."
She stopped people in downtown Dallas and asked them to name the risks for kidney disease. One man said a lack of sleep. Another man, who has high blood pressure and diabetes, said his doctor didn't tell him about the kidney disease risks.
"I was really just baffled at the lack of education on this," Nelson said. "I really believe it's more prevalent than people think."
Nelson, who will undergo the procedure Thursday, said even people who have kidney disease don't always talk with their families about it. That included her mother.
"If you don't tell your family, 'I've got kidney disease, and this is why,' nobody's learning from your example," said Nelson, the youngest of four children. "I don't know how long my mother has known she has kidney disease; I don't know how long ago she was diagnosed. I had no idea. She never talked to me about it."
Nelson hopes the series, which is co-produced and co-reported by colleague Deborah Ferguson, will encourage people to open lines of communication and avoid putting themselves in a position where they're searching for a donor. Reginald Hardwick is the executive producer of the series, Noah Bullard the photojournalist.
The surgery will take Nelson off her regular anchor shift for four to six weeks, though she hopes to post updates on her Facebook page and broadcast them on the air. She wants people to know that she overcame concerns about the surgery.
"It wasn't just automatic," she said. "I had to think about it. And I think it's important for people to know that you can think about it and you should. It's still major surgery. But I'm so happy to be doing it for my mother, and when I try to think back to when I was a little worried about it, I honestly don't remember those thoughts."
For more on "Kristi's Gift," visit this special section of NBC 5's website.
Robert Philpot, 817-390-7872