Two Central Alberta dialysis patients say their stress levels have escalated so dramatically since being told they could no longer seek the essential treatment in Red Deer, they are considering a dire alternative: completely stopping dialysis.
That would leave them with two weeks to live.
Dialysis is a crucial, artificial means to remove waste from the blood of patients who have lost kidney function. The unit handling this treatment at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre has been over its capacity to dialyze 120 patients for a number of months. It’s not an isolated situation.
There is a “significant infrastructural deficit in renal care” across the province, said Red Deer’s head of internal medicine, Dr. Kym Jim, also one of two kidney specialists in Central Alberta.
An expansion of the dialysis unit is needed in Red Deer to accommodate present and future growth but without a plan to do this, patients will have to travel to outlying units, Jim said. There just simply isn’t enough room.
To date, three patients who were receiving dialysis treatment in Red Deer have been asked to receive treatment at alternate sites, stated Alberta Health Services on Wednesday.
Joyce Reynolds of Sylvan Lake has been making the journey to Red Deer for dialysis for the past three years. About a week and a half ago, she said she received a call from the Northern Alberta Renal Program telling her she would now have to go to either Rocky Mountain House or Stettler for her three-times-a-week dialysis.
“I’ve been in a panic since I got that phone call. … You don’t have a choice. I don’t know what to do,” Reynolds, 75, said. She lives alone and does not have anyone who could drive her to Rocky — she’s always driven herself to Red Deer and said even that 20-minute drive is trying after a draining four hours hooked up to the dialysis machine.
She said she has no idea why she was picked to leave Red Deer, especially as she doesn’t have a driver or partner.
“They told me it was because I was a stable dialysis patient. That’s all.”
Reynolds had a heart attack three years ago and had stents put in, which finished her kidneys, she said. She uses a walker and has spine issues. She said she can’t brush snow off of her car and can’t see herself commuting to Rocky in the winter.
“They said they’d try to move me back to Red Deer before the snow flies if there’s availability … but there won’t be with the way things are going.”
She is supposed to start her first run to Rocky on Tuesday, a 45-minute and 65-km drive.
“Somehow we have to fight this. I’ve talked to our MLA Kerry Towle. … I can’t do it in the winter; I’d have to stop dialysis. … If I get behind the wheel … and I’m tired and fall asleep, who else am I going to harm? It’s too far.”
Rosalie Thon, who was also told recently she must go to Rocky over Red Deer for dialysis, echoes Reynold’s extreme thoughts.
Thon, who has polycystic kidney disease, travelled to Rocky on April 17 for dialysis and said she won’t go back. She is also a single woman and has no one to drive her.
Thon, 53, had surgery on March 27 so she could begin peritoneal dialysis by mid-May after a recovery and training period. This means she would be able to treat herself at home, draining solution into the peritoneal catheter site in the abdomen.
“I feel thrown out on the street. … I’m waiting for a call back (from Red Deer) and hopefully I can finish my run and then they can have my chair,” she said.
By late on Wednesday evening, Thon said she had no idea what she would do today, the day she needs to have her dialysis treatment.
“I don’t want to quit but there’s no way I’m running myself back and forth to Rocky. … It’s not safe.”
Jim said administratively all options are being considered, such as the option of modifying the current unit for more space and/or a night dialysis run currently not offered in Red Deer, increasing home hemodialysis and establishing a home hemodialysis education program in the city.
There is no firm plan in place for any of these options yet, Jim said, and none of them are very viable for patients outside of building a brand new unit.
“All these things can be done, but at what point in time does one realize that to accommodate a home hemodialysis training program, or to accommodate existing issues with our peritoneal dialysis program — because we’ve run out of space for it, too — or to accommodate our clinic that sees people before they wind up on dialysis, that all of those things are bursting at the seams.”