There are over 624 people in Newfoundland and Labrador currently undergoing dialysis treatment for kidney disease. This treatment requires connecting a patient to a machine to remove the patient’s blood, clean it, and then return it to their body.
Dialysis patients come from all facets of life – and their course of treatment also varies greatly by medical history and background. Some patients will undergo dialysis until they receive a kidney transplant while others will continue this treatment for the remainder of their lives. Forty-three-year-old Sheena King falls into the latter category.
Sheena was born with a number of health challenges that impacted her immune system. She also had albinism, which is linked to the vision impairment she has lived with her entire life. When Sheena turned 16, she was also diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. After living with Crohn’s for many years, she required a bowel resection in 2007.
“After two surgeries, I started to experience severe bouts of dehydration which destroyed my kidney function. For the next five years, I was in kidney failure and on July 22, 2014, I started my first dialysis treatment.”
Sheena credits Dr. Brendan Barrett, a nephrologist at Eastern Health, with helping her live five years with kidney failure before having to undergo dialysis.
“Dr. Barrett was incredible. He saved my life. Whatever he said to do, I did, and that is why I was able to live quite normally during those five years after my diagnosis. We knew that I would eventually end up on dialysis, but he did his best to keep me healthy and try other treatments for as long as I could.”
Eventually, the time did come for Sheena to start dialysis and she remembers her first treatment like it was yesterday.
“It was overwhelming and really hard on me because, as is the case with dialysis patients, my blood pressure dropped and it wasn’t a pleasant feeling. You basically sit there, let the machine clean your blood, and worry if every treatment will be like this. But, I am not someone who believed in sitting around and waiting on dialysis, so I said to myself that dialysis would have to wait on me. I established my schedule of three hour treatments, three times a week, and went back to work a week later. And more importantly, I never missed the Tim McGraw concert a month later for which I had already purchased tickets,” Sheena said with a smile.
Sheena credits the amazing staff at the Health Sciences Centre and Waterford dialysis unit for helping her adapt so easily to treatment.
“It’s the staff who get you through it – they are fantastic. They don’t make you feel like you are a patient and sick; they carry on with you, chat about things other than your condition and make sure you are ok. Because of this, it doesn’t feel like you are at the hospital,” she explained.
Due to Sheena’s health issues, there were some concerns that dialysis could increase her chance of infection, as well as other complications. But her story has turned out quite differently.
“I have been very lucky – it isn’t a walk in the park – but treatment has not been as strenuous on me as it is on some other patients. I am still sick some days, but have adapted very well. In fact, since being on dialysis, my white blood cell counts have normalized and I feel better than I ever have. My doctors cannot explain it, but dialysis has allowed me to live a very stable and healthier life.”
Help at Home
Due to her success with the treatment, Sheena quickly became a candidate for home dialysis, which allows patients to set-up dialysis treatments in the comfort of their own home.
“Home dialysis has been life changing. It gave me my life back. As I am visually impaired, I rely on the Go Bus to get to my appointments, but now I don’t have to deal with arranging frequent travel to the hospital or going out in snow storms. It was hard leaving the staff and friends I made at the dialysis unit, because they were like my family, but the home dialysis staff are also fantastic and supportive, which made the transition easier.
I now do two hours of treatment, four nights a week at home, but I can change my schedule to accommodate my life, if needed. But the absolute best part is that I receive treatment in the comfort of my own home with my husband and dog by my side.”
Sheena’s husband, Jeff, has been an amazing support for her throughout her entire dialysis journey.
“My husband is not only supportive, he is a details guy – he knows my history, researches my conditions extensively and is knowledgeable about my treatments. At first, he knew more than I did about dialysis because I didn’t want to know what I was in for. Now, he makes home dialysis possible for me as he handles all the maintenance for the machine. He’s incredible.”
Home dialysis also provides Sheena with the ability to travel to areas she may not have been able to before – like her home town of Forteau in Labrador.
“There is no dialysis treatment available in my home community, so I am looking forward to getting home to visit my family, something I could not do without home dialysis.”
Due to Sheena’s medical history and conditions, she will continue home dialysis indefinitely.
“My entire life has been a medical miracle and there are many people who did not think I would still be here today. I have a number of medical conditions that make a kidney transplant not a good option for me. My life is stable, this is working for me, and I don’t see the need to tempt fate. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!”
Sheena has been resilient in her health and has worked hard to make the accommodations and changes needed to be where she is today.
“Life is worth the fight and I am having way too much fun to give up!” ■
Health Care Foundation Dialysis Dash
“We can’t change a diagnosis but we can improve comfort for patients and make treatment a little more bearable,” said Paul Snow, President and CEO, Health Care Foundation.
The Health Care Foundation’s Dialysis Dash will raise awareness about kidney disease, all while raising much needed funds for the dialysis programs at the Health Sciences Centre, St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital and the Waterford Hospital.
A portion of the funds raised this year will go towards the completion of the Health Care Foundation’s commitment of replacing dialysis chairs in these three units, which will significantly improve the lives of dialysis patients. The remaining funds will support the purchase of a portable ultrasound machine for the Dialysis Units.
The Dialysis Dash has something for everyone – there will be a family fun run, as well as a 5 k or 10 k run or walk! There will also be family entertainment, bouncy castles, a BBQ, prizes and awards!
“The event would not be possible without our sponsors, so a huge thanks to our top sponsors Johnson Insurance, Body Quest and PAL Airlines!” added Mr. Snow.
For more information, visit www.HCFDialysisDash.ca.