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Sarah McConnell
Marketing & Communications Manager
1-800-749-AAKP (2257)


Nashville, TN – The American Association of Kidney Patients (AAKP), America’s largest and oldest independent and patient-lead kidney advocacy organization, presented the recipients of its 2017 Medal of Excellence during the Renal Physician Association’s (RPA) Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. Distinguished leaders of the renal community and other RPA meeting attendees joined in honoring the 2017 recipients.

Richard Knight, Vice President and Chair of Public Policy for AAKP stated “Members of the RPA know full well that kidney patients and their renal teams share a unique bond forged on the anvil of a tough and devastating disease. It is a particular honor to present these awards before our allies of the RPA, because an organization dedicated to patient engagement and professional excellence they appreciate the signal sent when patients highlight the best of the best.”

These awards are the Association’s highest honor for kidney health professionals and are designed to elevate national and international figures who have been in the forefront of scientific advances in kidney care and who are strong patient advocates.

“RPA is honored to host AAKP’s Medal of Excellence Awards Ceremony in conjunction with our Annual Meeting again this year. A tribute to nephrologists and patients alike, this longstanding tradition exemplifies the special significance of our organizations’ relationship and is one we hope will be everlasting,” said Rebecca J. Schmidt, President of Renal Physicians Association.

A selection committee comprised of highly renowned leaders in the renal community selected this year’s honorees based on numerous nominations. The 2017 honorees are:

Inaugural Medal of Excellence Special Recognition

Celeste Lee, former Manager of the Institute for Patient and Family-Centered Care Programs at the University of Michigan, and a former Board Member and Chair of the Patient and Family Partnership Council for the Kidney Health Initiative (Greater Detroit Area, Michigan). The inaugural AAKP Medal of Excellence Special Recognition honors an individual whose personal and or professional life have been in full service to the ideals of medical excellence, substantive patient engagement and the protection and extension of life through medical research and innovation.  This person is viewed by the kidney advocacy community as a person whose life reminds us of the unwavering hope, optimism and determination that unites us in our efforts to prevail over kidney disease.

In honor of Celest Lee, AAKP President Paul T. Conway stated, “Celeste Lee was an inspirational leader in the kidney community and we respected her both as a relentless and passionate patient advocate and as consummate policy professional. As a community, we mourn her recent loss and we will remember her life as a poignant reminder of how one person, selflessly committed to high ideals and principle, can better the lives of generations yet to come.”

Physician Category

William E.  Mitch, MD, Director of the Division of Nephrology at Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, Texas) and Professor of Medicine at the Selzman Institute for Kidney Health (Houston, Texas)

Nursing Category

Helen Currier, BSN, RN, CNN, CENP, Director of Renal and Pheresis Services at Texas Children’s Hospital and former President of the National Renal Administrators Association (NRAA), Philadelphia PA

Social Work Category

Mary Beth Callahan, ACSW, LCSW, Senior Social Worker at Dallas Transplant Institute and a former Chair of the National Kidney Foundation’s Council of Nephrology Social Workers (Dallas, Texas)

Dietitian Category

Janelle Gonyea, RDN, LD, FNKF, Clinical Dietitian at Mayo Clinic Dialysis Services and Assistant Professor of Nutrition, College of Medicine (Rochester, Minnesota)

Technician Category

Philip M. Varughese, BS, CHT, Facility Administrator at DaVita, Inc. (Hillsborough, New Jersey)

The Medal of Excellence recipients will be recognized throughout the 2017 year at AAKP various events. Each of these honorees help the AAKP continue its mission to improve the quality of life for kidney patients through education, advocacy, and the fostering or patient communities.


Founded in 1969, AAKP is the largest and oldest independent kidney patient organization in America. Governed by a patient-majority Board of Directors, AAKP conducts national education programs designed to better inform kidney patients, care-givers and policy-makers about the true impacts of kidney disease, prevention efforts and treatment methods. AAKP executes a national advocacy strategy in conjunction with allied kidney organizations designed to insert the patient voice into proposed policies, research efforts and care deliberations before the Executive Branch and the U.S. Congress.