PHOENIX — “It was super exciting being on stage and just having people laugh,” said AJ Coulter.
AJ Coulter is on a mission to open up the dialogue surrounding kidney disease.
“She’s like eyeing me up and down, I’m eyeing those kidneys, and it was love at first sight y’all because it said organ donor on her driver's license,” said AJ on stage Wednesday.
He’s delivering levity to a conversation affecting so many like him. Just five years earlier, the Valley comedian learned his kidneys were failing.
“I was diagnosed with Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, or FSGS, and I had no idea how to react to it. I was really by myself, I was scared, I was just so lost,” said AJ.
The disease had quietly progressed since he was young. Now at 32, he receives dialysis three times a week to help keep him alive as he awaits a potential kidney transplant.
“In life you only have two choices, you either lay down or you keep pushing forward,” said AJ.
AJ said he had back pain and discovered protein in his urine after donating plasma; a tell-tale sign something could be wrong.
Many times, those symptoms get missed. In fact, studies show 90 percent of people with kidney disease don’t even know they have it.
“It kills more people each year than breast cancer and prostate cancer, yet it’s not talked about,” said Anayln Scott.
Analyn and her husband Raymond lead a nonprofit called 1 in 9, aimed at making sure kidney disease is talked about and those facing it, know they’re not alone.
“The CDC is now even saying one out of three people with diabetes may have kidney disease and, like Raymond, one out of five people with high blood pressure may have kidney disease,” said Analyn.
The couple travels the nation telling Raymond's story. Living on dialysis for more than 20 years now, he’s proof the diagnosis doesn’t have to be a death sentence, including performing on Dancing with the Stars Arizona edition and writing a book.
Raymond and Analyn are now rooting on AJ as he hits the stage in hopes of inspiring others as well.
“He can give them that lift that they may need in that day, they can remember that joke that he told, and they can tell it to themselves, and they can tell it to the other patients at dialysis,” said Raymond.
If laughter is indeed the best medicine, he says AJ’s comedy act may just save a life.
“I just felt like this was my calling, I am meant to do this, and I know we’re going to affect people's lives in a profound way,” said AJ.