Mill Creek couple pairs up for at-home kidney dialysis
Last updated 3/18/2021 at 8:38am
Mill Creek residents Diana and Michael Beaumont give "in sickness and in health" a lot of heft.
More than two decades ago, he was by her side for breast cancer treatment. Now she is by his in their Mill Creek home.
The married couple spends much of their together-time near a lounge chair adorned with tubes, used for home hemodialysis. The process is due to a need for cleaning the blood, because Michael has no kidneys. He lost one in 2000 and the second in 2015, both from cancer triggered by work as a firefighter for the U.S. Navy.
"Some of the foam and stuff that we use to put out aircraft fires was proven to be a carcinogen," Michael said. "With a propensity for the kidneys and a few other organs," Diana said.
At first, they traveled for dialysis, spending time on the road, then the approximate 4.5-hour block of time in a clinic. That ate up three days a week, and with travel time it dominated the bulk of the day.
Diana signed up for a six-week course where she learned to set up the equipment and manage his at-home care. Some courses can take four weeks.
"I am really fortunate that Diana is willing to do it," Michael said. "She has a dental hygiene background, so she's used to the medical field."
"His friends call me Nurse Ratched," she said, "because I am his needle-sticker, caregiver, dialysis pump operator, and supply co-ordinator. He and I are a good team."
It's more convenient and comfortable, and they have control of the germs. During COVID-19, both of them were high risk due to age and health.
They describe the every-other-day care as a pastime.
"He can watch football on our TV," she said.
"I have my little bell that rings for my assistant," he said.
She said in her professional life she was accustomed to setting up IVs and dealing with injections so the process itself was not a big leap. The machine setup was a challenge at first, but it does not move. They have a dedicated space for the chair and its equipment.
"He's a great patient," she said. When one line is empty, he holds it while she deals with the second line. Getting used to the machine was a challenge in the beginning. If the pressure was wrong, the lines would clog.
But the challenges of clinic-based dialysis make the at-home problems seem smaller.
Diana said during "Snowmaggedon" in 2019 they had to borrow the neighbor's car to get to the clinic. Another obstacle to travel kept him away from dialysis for four days. They do treatments every other day now that it is at home.
The process takes about six and a half hours including setup and breakdown. Medicare pays for supplies, and they are shipped monthly from a specialty medical supply company called NextStage. Diana does inventory sent to the company. Every other day, they do the home dialysis. If he eventually gets a new kidney, they can stop doing that. With self-dialysis at home, patients can choose peritoneal dialysis or hemodialysis. Northwest Kidney Centers offers a free class to figure out which one to choose, and whether to do "home hemo."
About 88% of people do chronic dialysis treatment in a center, Susan Watnick, M.D. and Chief Medical Officer for Northwest Kidney Centers, told The Beacon. About 10% of people choose home hemodialysis.
And while the Beaumonts are a duo in their "home hemo," a person living solo can also do it.
"Some people do the home dialysis without anyone helping them," Watnick said.
Watnick said people often do not know they have kidney disease. Anyone with diabetes should be screened. One common symptom of kidney disease is high blood pressure.
She said she was not aware of any barriers to home dialysis other than a need for adequate water supply and reliable power. People should be educated on all of their options.
In Mill Creek, the underground power that makes outages less likely has been helpful. An outage could mean a missed treatment.
"When you find out that you've got to go on dialysis, it absolutely scares the living daylights out of you," Michael said.
The process is going well, and the health benefits are allowing them to live a good life. They planned to go to Hawaii as soon as his dialysis was working. Once it did, they went, carting their dialysis equipment with them.
The experience overall has been life-changing.
"It's just more flexible and it's more comfortable we aren't driving," Diana said.
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