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Kidney disease and tourism don’t sound like a likely combination.

But in the intensity of Stephane Etienne, the pairing makes great television. The Australian-based French entrepreneur motorcycled into Missoula three days ago to tout the city’s natural wonders and St. Patrick Hospital’s nephrology department.

Accompanied by fellow rider Paul Torriero and a camera crew of four, Etienne’s “WorldRiderz” show took time on Monday to craft a segment for the Discovery Network.

“We don’t do anything that’s asking for money,” Etienne explained as his yellow-shirted crew arranged their lights and sound boom in the St. Patrick library. “We’re working to raise awareness, and to get doctors connected in a referral network. We want to get at least 75 percent of the doctors in the world registered.”

Etienne said he started the campaign three years ago, when his son Ilhan was born with kidney disease. He produced a six-part TV series traveling 15,534 miles from Sydney, Australia, to Paris with stops in Saudi Arabia, India and Italy, among others. He also featured 11 hospitals’ kidney disease programs.

Discovery renewed the show for a second season. This one started at Disneyland Paris and shifted to Vancouver, British Columbia. Etienne and Torriero motorcycled down to Wallace, Idaho, and then Missoula before heading East to the Sturgis festival in South Dakota.

“We all thought this was a great cause to support,” said Tia Troy, who supervises Glacier Country for the Montana Office of Tourism. “We host a lot of media from around the world, but this has local tourism combined with raising awareness for kidney disease.”

The “WorldRiderz” crew contacted Glacier Country through its international media liaisons to arrange the Missoula visit. In addition to the hospital visit, they also filmed scenes in Glacier National Park, on the Clark Fork River, and with local honey and cherry producers.

At St. Pat’s, Etienne and Torriero interviewed Dr. Meg Eddy, one of two kidney specialists at the medical center. While Missoula doesn’t perform kidney transplants, it provides care for 200 transplant recipients and 120 more who need regular dialysis treatment.

Eddy raised the issue of the falling numbers of living organ donors, who may decline to participate because of the difficulty getting insurance to cover their own post-donation health needs. She also expressed interest in Etienne’s plan for a worldwide doctor referral network.

“I belong to a professional association, and that would be the organization I’d turn to if I’m stuck on a case,” Eddy said. “But for rare diseases, it would be really helpful to have some coordinated network. A lot of times, being able to trade experiences with other doctors is helpful. In places like Los Angeles, there are 200 nephrologists. Here there are two.”

“That’s the main goal of ‘WorldRiderz,’ to get these doctors to talk,” Etienne said. “Most people don’t know they have kidney disease until it’s too late. Often it’s their lifestyle – their stress or diet that leads to diabetes or high blood pressure. While crossing the United States, we’re hoping for even more awareness. We’ve gone 5,000 kilometers. We’ve got a few hundred thousand to go.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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