Getting a nonprofit off the ground takes vision, determination and leadership. And then it takes the collective efforts many people who share the vision and contribute their time and talents to nurture and grow the organization.
Several DaVita leaders had the vision of expanding access to dialysis treatment in countries where it was limited or non-existent, and in 2006, Bridge of Life was founded. Since that time, more than 1,500 volunteers and thousands of generous donors have helped to expand our work to 33 countries, impacting over 130,000 lives.
In the fall of 2006, the first Bridge of Life dialysis clinic was launched in partnership with the World Organization of Renal Therapies and The University Teaching Hospital of Yaoundé (CHUY) in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Christopher E. Atwater Sr., a DaVita biomed, led a volunteer team of one nurse, DaVita teammate Sharon Demboski, during a 45-day medical mission. Two biomed technicians and 11 nurses were trained to operate the CHUY’s new dialysis clinic which was comprised of four hemodialysis treatment stations. Nicole Kouam was the first patient to be dialyzed in the new unit. The clinic was instrumental in improving the quality standards and accessibility for patients requiring hemodialysis treatment in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
BOL launched its Kids’ Camp Program in 2007 by teaming up with The Painted Turtle, a camp for kids with serious medical conditions based out of California. Eleven DaVita teammates served as the volunteers the first year. Since then, we have expanded our partnership to three more camps: Roundup River Ranch in Colorado, The Flying Horse in Ohio and Victory Junction in North Carolina. In total, 250+ teammates have volunteered providing a safe and fun environment for the campers, allowing them to enjoy "just being a kid again."
"This was, by far, the most rewarding experience I have had in my life. I was hoping to have a big impact on the kids, but the kids had a BIG impact on me. The opportunity to be with the kids and their families is one I will never forget. To see other DaVita teammates volunteer and share the experience, as well as creating many friendships, is something I will continue to share with others."
BOL Volunteer at Round Up River Ranch
"This was by far my most humbling, loving, caring experience I have ever had. I fell in love with those kids after one day and completely immersed myself in their needs, wants and desires. The camp site and facilities were beyond belief."
BOL Volunteer at Victory Junction
Since Tour DaVita (TDV) began in 2007, it has raised over $13 million for Bridge of Life to assist in their efforts to help to prevent, control and treat kidney disease and its key causes around the globe. TDV, hosted by DaVita with ALL proceeds benefiting Bridge of Life, began as a creative, adventurous and healthy way to raise awareness for kidney disease. From 2007 – 2019, was a three-day bicycle ride held in a different part of the country each year. Pedaling across some 250 miles, the “moving Village” of nearly 600 DaVita teammates, physicians, family members and sponsors rode to promote good kidney health and camaraderie while raising money for Bridge of Life.
Due to COVID-19, TDV went virtual in 2020 and 2021, encompassed all types of activities and was open to the public. Nearly 4,000 men, women and children participated by Moving IT for Bridge of Life.
Bridge of Life has continuously looked for ways to improve the care we provide dialysis patients through our partners. After noticing that the majority of dialysis patients continued to receive treatment through a catheter, even years after beginning dialysis, Bridge of Life created an AV (arteriovenous) Fistula surgical program.
Fistulas are superior to catheters for long-term dialysis and much less susceptible to infections. There’s also an improved quality of life for patients who no longer have an external catheter and can swim and participate in other activities without fear of infection. BOL’s pediatric patients particularly appreciate these advantages!
Thanks to dedicated vascular surgeons and other volunteers, BOL’s Fistula Surgical program has provide more than 800 adults and children in three countries with AVFs. Additionally, almost 500 surgeons and clinicians have been trained to perform these surgeries and monitor patients to assure their fistulas remain viable.
In 2014, BOL launched its Chronic Disease Prevention program by incorporating a U.S.-based screening program previously led by The Kidney TRUST (TKT) into its portfolio. Through real-time, lab-quality testing, BOL began screening individuals for CKD.
This same year, we led our first international mission to Guatemala. Since then, we have expanded the program to 13 countries and screened over 42,000 people for chronic diseases, including chronic kidney disease, hypertension and diabetes.
Today, the program not only includes health screening but also preventative health education, the distribution of medication, the training of Community Health Workers.
"There are 33 million people in Uganda and only 33 dialysis machines….unless people look at ways of addressing prevention as the bigger problem then we are headed for a nightmare."
President of Uganda Kidney Foundation
"The way Bridge of Life runs things is another dimension. It is so well organized and brings the right resources to do this work the right way. I love the screening and especially the education. I do not know how to describe it. It’s awesome."
Program Coordinator, Ghana Partner
"I can’t express enough how impactful this mission to Africa was, not only to our team but most importantly, the communities we served, over 1,500 people in five days. This was the best team I’ve ever been on!"
Sr. Director of National Accounts, Pentec Health, BOL Volunteer
"I cannot say enough positive things about this program. It was heartwarming, beautiful, amazing, challenging, fun and uplifting. I cannot wait to return and make a difference. The opportunity to volunteer with BOL is one of the best parts of working for DaVita."
DaVita FA, BOL Volunteer
During 2006 – 2014, 15 Bridge of Life partner dialysis clinics were established or received support on the continents of Africa, Asia and North America. In May 2014, Bridge of Life was able to provide support for its 15th-dialysis unit during a mission to Jamaica.
The Mandeville Hospital dialysis center located in Mandeville, Jamaica continues to provide maintenance hemodialysis for chronic kidney disease patients located in the Mandeville, Jamaica service area.
In July of 2017, with the help of DaVita IT volunteer Dave Stephenson, Bridge of Life (BOL) launched its new electronic medical record system (EMR) in rural Haiti. We transformed our previously cumbersome paper-based, data collection system into a customized EMR created for our screening program. The web-based system runs off solar energy and uses donated iPads from DaVita. Because it is so user-friendly, BOL’s volunteers and local, in-country partner volunteers can learn to use our software in a brief, one-hour training session.
The new system greatly improved BOL’s ability to collect accurate data so that our team could better track patient outcomes and deliver more efficient quality care. It also strengthened accountability of our work and transparency to our partners and donors. To date, we have used the system in almost a dozen countries around the world!
Building sustainable projects is an important goal for Bridge of Life. In 2017, Bridge of Life strengthened our Chronic Disease Prevention Program by training Community Health Workers to provide ongoing follow-up and preventative health education to patients identified as high risk during a screening mission. Community Health Workers are local leaders that reside in the villages so that medical services are more accessible year round. They educate people to manage chronic disease, monitor health results and make medication available. Today BOL has empowered 75 community health leaders to serve as BOL CHWs who collectively serve 755 people suffering from chronic disease. This program thrives in Haiti, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Uganda and Ghana.
Bridge of Life’s (BOL) work is only possible because of volunteers and donors who believe that everyone should have access to quality healthcare. The time and energy contributed by volunteers these past 15 years have spread ripples around the globe. Access to healthcare services has increased in 33 countries with the support of our in-country partners and community health workers. By providing training and resources, volunteers have improved patient care for thousands of people who deserve the chance to live healthy and fulfilling lives. We are humbled and grateful for our volunteers who make our work possible!
Covid-19 swept across the globe in early 2020 and was a powerful reminder that we are all vulnerable to devastating disease while also highlighting the healthcare disparities that exist globally. Even today, only 4% of people in the poorest countries have received a single vaccine. For the first time since its founding, Bridge of Life (BOL) was unable to take teams of volunteers on medical missions. This required BOL to develop new ways to deliver programs while also responding to a historic pandemic that put people with chronic disease at especially high risk. BOL quickly developed virtual trainings to help their partners and patients stay safe from Covid-19, and with the help from BOL supporters, they were able to provide vast quantities of PPE and hand sanitizer. Volunteers made thousands of hand-made masks and joined us in delivering virtual trainings that reached that reached hundreds of caregivers. BOL’s community health workers in six countries distributed hygiene supplies and continued to provide chronic disease treatment, strengthening healthcare in the most vulnerable communities.