ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — An estimated 37 million American adults are affected by kidney disease, and 90 percent don’t even know they have it. Nearly 750,000 need dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive. One local man is being recognized nationally for his efforts in creating diets and cooking videos for patients across the country.
His story starts with his own kidney failure.
John Vito worked in the restaurant business for 20 years. He used to be a chef, and owned a few restaurants in Rochester. His journey in the food business took a turn, when some symptoms interfered with his job, and led him to the doctor’s office.
“I was run down a lot, couldn’t go an hour and a half without needing a nap,” he said. ” I went to doctor who sent me to hospital, and I spent 30 days there. When I returned I was on permanent dialysis.”
Vito’s permanent solution of dialysis forced him to focus all his attention on his health — and he had to change the way he ate. He also had to close his restaurants.
“When you’re on dialysis, you need to eat a lot of protein,” said Dr. Holly Kramer, President of National Kidney Foundation. “You also have to be concerned about your sodium intake, because normally the kidney excretes sodium, so if you have kidney failure then that sodium is going to build up in your bloodstream,” she said.
Kramer said you also have to restrict phosphate, which is found in preserved food. “Making your own food instead of eating food that’s processed is going to be so much healthier for you,” said Kramer.
Vito needed to find a creative way to fuel his passion for cooking, while dealing with a new diet.
“There was a great deal of info from renal dietitians, but not a lot of ways to transfer to the plate. I thought I could do that … and started as helping myself,” Vito said.
And then he started helping others, with a website of videos and even a book called, “Cooking for your Kidney.”
Vito took his newfound kidney-friendly cooking skills to a competition. In July of 2019, Vito entered a challenge called the KidneyX: Patient Innovator Challenge, a public-private partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and funded by the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). The competition called on everyday Americans, specifically those or family members of those with Chronic Kidney Disease or End-Stage Renal Disease, to submit their ideas on how to improve therapeutic options and quality of life for people living with kidney diseases. John won among several other competitors.
“It [his submission] was not just menu planning but also videos showing people how to cook their meals,” said Kramer, who was also one of the judge panelists.
For now, Vito is laying low with COVID-19 affecting the way he and his community work together, but he still has plans to keep busy and continue his outreach.
“What I hope to happen is to create larger platform, and more of the cooking shows I’ve created over the last few years.” Vito said. Since the pandemic started, the kitchen videos are shot in his own home, rather than a studio.
“Being able to help helps me and it helps to know I could possibly be of assistance to others,” he said.