The Stark Reality of Dialysis
On World Kidney Day, Dialysis Head appeals to the public to change their diet and lifestyle in order to reduce the risk of kidney disease.
Head of the Dialysis Unit at the Mount St. John Medical Center, Sister Debra Lewis, is pleading with the public to avoid the risk factors which can lead to kidney failure.
The Public Relations Department in the Ministry of Health and the Environment spoke with the Unit Manager as Antigua and Barbuda observes World Kidney Day on March 9th.
Sister Lewis, who has been working in Dialysis for 12 years before being promoted to manager, said that the Dialysis Unit, in operation since June 20th, 1997, has come a long way.
The unit started out with two stations and is now operating 13 stations.
Some may not necessarily see this as good news as it means that the number of persons requiring dialysis is growing.
The manager noted that the unit started out with two patients and they are now currently servicing eighty-one. Over the years they have lost and gained patients.
“Well that’s how our numbers have increased; we have lost many over the years and we have gained continuously over the years. It’s not the same 81 patients we are dialyzing. We started out with two patients and we have now come to the point where we are now dialyzing 81 patients,” Sister Lewis stated.
The Unit is run six days per week - on Mondays and Thursdays, 6 am – 12midnight, 40 patients are dialyzed.
On Tuesdays and Fridays, over 30 patients receive the service and over 20 are treated on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
In explaining what Dialysis actually entails, Sister Lewis revealed that each patient is dialyzed 3 and a half to 4 hours per session.
“Dialysis is required when patients’ kidneys no longer function or at just at a minimum function and the kidney cannot clear the body of all the waste matters and the extra fluid that it keeps on board. They come to the Dialysis Unit and with the aid of an artificial kidney, we help to clean the blood and to take away the excess fluid. That’s basically what it is. So that’s how we are helping these patients. If they don’t have the option of dialysis, the kidney disease becomes very detrimental to the point where they can have a lot of complications.”
She said hemodialysis (the process of pumping blood out of one’s body to an artificial kidney machine and returned to the body by tubes that connect the patient to the machine) is currently being offered at the Unit. Plans are in the pipeline to move towards peritoneal dialysis (where the inside lining of one’s belly acts as a natural filter).
“If they don’t have these options, the patients can end up losing their lives. There are a lot of complications that come with kidney failure such as heart failure and respiratory distress and these can be life threatening. So they must have the option to have dialysis once they are in kidney failure. If not, it’s their lives that are at risk”, Sister Lewis remarked.
In 2015, a total of 9,063 treatments were administered and in 2016, the total amount of treatments was 9,982. A total of 856 treatments were performed in January 2017.
Sister Lewis said although sensitization and educational awareness of kidney disease are ongoing, some people still refuse to take heed.
“I think the reason for the increase is that even though we have gone out and we are trying to sensitize the public on how to prevent kidney disease by controlling their blood pressure and blood sugars because we know that high blood pressure and diabetes are two of the major diseases that lead to kidney failure, the numbers still continue to rise.”
Sister Lewis added, “I think people just really need to take their lifestyles in hand and really begin to get serious about even their diet. They seem not to really realize how serious it is to monitor even just their diet; it is also important to be compliant with your medications, so that you don’t end up with a situation where you are knocking your kidneys out. Even to the point when they are sick and you try to guide them, some of them still do just whatever they want until they come to the point that they are faced with dialysis, and then they said they didn’t realize it was so serious.”
Sister Lewis said that space at the unit is also becoming a challenge.
She also noted that the economic cost of dialysis is huge and fewer people requiring the service would be beneficial to all concerned.
We asked Sister Lewis if once a person starts dialysis, if that’s a life sentence.
“There is acute kidney failure and there is chronic kidney failure. If there is a person with an acute kidney failure due to a trauma or some kind of disease process, that person after a few treatments would be able to come off of dialysis because once the condition is reversed then the kidney would kick back in and begin to function again and they would no longer need dialysis. But if it’s a chronic situation, that person would need dialysis for the rest of their life unless they get a kidney transplant or they have a miracle.”
In January 2017, two successful kidney transplant operations were conducted at the Mount St. John’s Medical Center. The historic achievements were the first in the OECS. Health and Environment Minister, Molwyn Joseph, said that one of the factors that inspired the medical breakthrough was the increasing number of patients on dialysis and the high cost of the procedures.
Public Relations Department
Ministry of Health & The Environment