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Life goes on

March 07, 2005|by CHRIS COPLEY

chrisc@herald-mail.com

When kidneys fail and a person's life depends on undergoing dialysis three times a week, a patient may be forgiven for feeling that life as they knew it is over.

"I think particularly in the beginning, there's a sense that their lifestyle is completely changing, that things aren't possible for them," said Karen Walker, a social worker at Meadow Dialysis Facility in Hagers-town. "But really, whatever they did before will dictate what they can do after."

Get up and go


Chris Sigler is one dialysis patient who knows life can go on.

"You can have a productive, active life on dialysis," she said. "The problem is people just go home from dialysis and sit on the couch and think they can't do nothing, can't go nowhere.

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"They need to do something."

Sigler, who works part time with The Herald-Mail, has lived with dialysis for more than a decade. In 1992, her kidneys failed, destroyed by a genetic condition. Her stepmother donated a kidney to Sigler, but that failed after two years.

Now Sigler undergoes dialysis three times a week to remove fluid and waste from her blood. It is a lifesaving procedure. Without dialysis and careful diet, Sigler, like other dialysis patients, would die - probably within weeks.

In the United States, nearly 300,000 people are on long-term dialysis. Common side effects to dialysis are muscle cramps and tiredness.

The three types of dialysis are hemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis and cyclic peritoneal dialysis. Hemodialysis patients must follow strict dietary guidelines. Potassium, for example, can be a problem. A little is necessary for good health, but too much is toxic. Ordinarily, kidneys get rid of excess water-soluble chemicals such as potassium, sodium or phosphorus. If the kidneys do not function, dialysis can help regulate the levels of potassium and other chemicals in the body.

Keep on living


Walker said that some patients feel imprisoned, chained by the three-times-a-week schedule. One alternative to dialysis in the clinic is dialysis at home while a patient sleeps. Derek Kee utilizes this type of dialysis, known as peritoneal dialysis (PD) because it utilizes tiny blood vessels in the abdominal wall, called the peritoneum.

Dialysis does have an impact on his day-to-day energy level. He doesn't play sports and is careful about exerting himself. But Kee, who pastors a Hagerstown-area church, does not let his health keep him from getting out and about.

"I travel like anyone else. That was one of the reasons I went on PD. You're not restrained, having to go to the center (three times) a week," he said.

"I still take my cruises, my vacations and visit my sister in Oklahoma once or twice a year."

See the world


Walker encourages patients to maintain full lives, to take part in activities they have enjoyed throughout life.

"I encourage patients to normalize their lives and minimize their losses, to capture whatever their predialysis lifestyle was," Walker said.

One thing dialysis patients might not think to do is travel, but if they traveled before their kidneys failed, Walker said, patients should consider continuing to travel.

Sigler didn't travel until after she went on dialysis. Then her husband, Gregg, said he'd like to go to Europe.

"At first I said I wanted to stay home. I'd never been on a plane. But we went to Europe for 11 days. I was a nervous wreck. I thought I was going to die. But it was OK."

Part of Walker's job at Meadow is to help patients arrange for dialysis while they travel. When Sigler and her husband went to Europe, they followed a set itinerary. Walker had arranged for dialysis equipment to be waiting for Sigler at hotels, three times a week, just like at home.

"We hit a hotel, then traveled, hit a hotel, then traveled," Sigler said.

Walker tries to help patients see that life goes on; dialysis need not be a life sentence to monotony.

"I guess it's case by case. We do encourage exercise and activity," Walker said.

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