Paul Harris: 90 Years Young and on Home Hemodialysis

Submitted by Paul Harris, Home Hemodialysis Patient

In February of 2009 at the age of 81, I was told that my kidney function was at 10% and that I would require dialysis treatments three times per week for the rest of my life. Having turned 90 years old this past December, it gave me cause to reflect on the events leading up to that day and the following nine years, most of which have been spent as a proud Home Hemodialysis patient.

My kidney function had been declining for several years. I remember going to my doctor many years before, telling him that I always felt tired. He gave me a prescription for iron but that offered me temporary relief only. A few years after that when I was 70, my wife, Joyce and I fulfilled a long time dream of ours and moved to our cottage at Lester Beach. For convenience, we sought out a physician in the area.  As new patients, Dr. Van Rooyen put us both through thorough examinations. When I met with him to review the results, he told me that my kidney function was declining and that I should consult a specialist. That was the first time I realized all was not well. 

Dr. S. Armstrong, a nephrologist, monitored me for the next several years through blood and urine tests. Eleven years after moving to Lester Beach, we moved back to the city simply due to age creeping. My health was reasonably good until February 2009 when I was admitted to hospital for unrelated matters.  While recuperating from surgery, I contracted a severe blood infection, which caused my kidneys to fail almost completely. I still remember the day I was told I would need dialysis to stay alive.  At the time, I did not fully understand the impact this would have on my life.

Looking for solutions, I was told that a kidney transplant would be problematic due to my age, as the drugs would likely kill me. I immediately started dialysis at Seven Oaks General Hospital (SOGH). As a new patient, I was assigned to what our family referred to as “the late shift”- 6pm to 10 pm.  With travel time from our south Winnipeg apartment, that four-hour treatment required at least six hours. I was routinely getting home at 11pm. I recall sometimes barely having the energy to get my pajamas on. It was brutal to say the least. After a few months, I was fortunate to be transferred to the “day shift” at St. Boniface Hospital. While there was less travelling, dialysis was still taking up a large part of my day.

My family supported me as best they could: dialysis was not just my issue, it was a family issue and it was approached as such. I arranged Handi-Transit to drive me to the hospital for treatments and my children and grandchildren took turns picking me up and getting me home.

One day while dialyzing at St. Boniface Hospital, quite by accident, I met Henni Dyck, Program Director for the SOGH Renal Program. Henni introduced herself and said that she had heard I was interested in the new Home Hemodialysis program. Fortunately, as it turned out, she had confused me with someone else.

I told her I had no idea what she was talking about but asked her to tell me about the program.  She explained it was a brand new program out of SOGH that would allow patients to dialyze in their homes, on their own schedule. This was a potential game changer! Intrigued, I asked if I would be eligible and she said she didn’t see any reason why not and put me on the list.

After a few months, Verna, one of the nurses who spearheaded the program, contacted me to say that my training would start in May 2011.  My family and I met with the Home Hemo team – Dr. Claudio Rigatto , several nurses, pharmacists and social workers – who were responsible for the program.  Dr. Rigatto explained the benefits of dialysis at home: longer, gentler treatments, less chance of infection, dialyzing on my own schedule and regaining some control over my life.  That sounded great, but we asked, “did the team really think I could take on such a huge responsibility at the age of 83?”  Dr. Rigatto looked at me point blank with a smile on his face and told me that the team had full confidence that I could do this.   

I was introduced to Cindy, whom would be the nurse training me. I later learned that I was Cindy’s first trainee. My daughter-in-law Suzanne and my daughter Lesley took the training with me to provide home support for me. The training was taxing.  During my periods of self-doubt, Cindy was there to assure me of their continued confidence in me.

Throughout my 10 weeks of training (it usually took 6-8 weeks), the whole team – Drs Komenda, Armstrong and Rigatto, nurses Cindy, Verna, Wanda, April, Henni Dyck, the technologists and social workers were incredibly encouraging and kind. There is no doubt that without their support and patience, I would not have succeeded.  They held a ceremony and party for me when I graduated on July 15, 2011!

My first home treatment was on July 20, 2011. Verna and Cindy were both with me for that first treatment. I dialyzed at night so that my days were my own. I ordered my own supplies, sent in my own blood for testing to the lab, and conversed with the team over the phone when necessary. It made our lives so much better.

While it was scary at first, it soon became habit. I took satisfaction in being able to set up the equipment, monitor the process, trouble-shoot and take myself off after the treatment. I met with the renal team every couple of months to make sure that all was on the right track.

I turned 90 in December and I continue to dialyze at home. These past seven years would not have been possible without the support of the great people at the Home Hemodialysis program and their belief that even an 83 year old could learn how to home dialyze. I cannot thank them enough for their care, commitment and support. We are lucky to have them. They are all my heroes.

2 Comments

  1. Gina Eisler
    Posted February 24, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Bravo – you are still and always have been our hero! I hope this encourages others to look into home dialysis!

    Gina – Les’s other friend

  2. Kelly -Les’s friend
    Posted February 16, 2018 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Well done, Mr H!! Keep on keepin’ on!!

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