‘I never imagined it would happen so quickly’

Kimberly MacDonald, right, and her daughter Miya sit in the dialysis unit with Ann MacLean, RN.

Reclining under a warm blanket and watching Live with Kelly and Michael may sound like a relaxing way to start your day, but a glance sideways at the machine filtering Kimberly MacDonald’s blood points to a reality most can’t imagine.

Just months ago dialysis was foreign to MacDonald as well. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 19, she knew about the potential for complications like kidney failure. She worked to manage the disease through daily monitoring of her diet and insulin injections. She rejected the idea of an insulin pump to help regulate her blood sugar levels, because she didn’t like the idea of being attached to a machine. Little did she know that at 37 years of age she would rely on a machine cleaning her blood to stay alive.

Until recently, the single mom to a young daughter was running a home-based day care.  Caring for her child and other toddlers kept her busy, but she knew her dropping energy level was not normal. A trip to her specialist in June confirmed she was in the early stages of kidney failure, and they began discussing the likelihood of dialysis down the road.

“After weeks of regular blood tests, I saw my nephrologist in Halifax this September and he broke the news that I would be admitted to start dialysis the next day,” says MacDonald. “I never imagined it would happen so quickly.”

She began her treatments in Halifax but is now happy to be receiving dialysis closer to her Colchester County home.  She spends about four hours, three days a week, hooked up to the “life giving” machine at the Colchester East Hants Health Centre’s dialysis unit.

“I can’t believe the incredible difference, how much better I feel and the staff here are very attentive. They work amazingly as a team and are so good at explaining everything to me,” she says.

The number of patients like MacDonald, who can be treated locally, increased with the opening of the health centre in 2012, when the number of dialysis chairs tripled. Last year there were about 220 to 260 visits to the unit each month. Over the past six months, the number of monthly visits has risen by more than 100, topping out an all-time high of 409 visits.

Having the facility close to home also allows MacDonald’s family to support her. MacDonald’s four-year-old daughter Miya, a frequent visitor to the unit with her mother, wore her favorite party dress to a recent turkey dinner for patients (see below). She was all smiles as she enjoyed her favorite food with her mom and nanny. She already has her sights set on, “being a nurse for little kids who have to have tubes,” as she puts it.

In January MacDonald begins the process of being listed for a kidney transplant, but accepts dialysis as “her lot in life” without a donor. She is counting her blessings, including the dialysis team, overwhelming support from family and friends, near and far, and embraces her diagnosis as a chance to help educate others.

“It is important for people with diabetes to really understand what dialysis is and what it would mean to their lives,” she says. “Knowledge is power. You can know something in your head, but if you can apply it to your heart, it makes so much difference.”

Celebrating the science of nutrition for dialysis patients  

Diaylsis team members at the Colchester East Hants Health Centre (CEHHC) are also helping educate dialysis patients about diets, and breaking some misconceptions about what people with kidney issues can and can’t eat. And it starts with a turkey dinner.

A monetary gift presented by Dorothy Roode, president of the local chapter of the Kidney Foundation, allowed registered nurse Ann MacLean and her colleagues to help promote a turkey dinner for dialysis patients and their families in December.

The idea for the dinner emerged from the work of dietitian Carolyn Haverstock who works with dialysis patients to provide education and support related to renal diets, special diets that limit sodium, fluids, potassium and phosphorus to prevent further strain on their kidneys.

Acadia University dietetic intern Jill Conrod also helped plan the meal as part of her assignment to the food services team.

“Many of our patients believe that following a renal diet equates to bland food and will cook two separate meals for their families,” says Haverstock. “We wanted to dispel that myth and show that renal-friendly food can taste great and be enjoyed by the entire family.”

The dietary team has been holding monthly taste tests to showcase recipes and with the encouragement of dialysis manager, Kristine Carr, they researched and planned the special dinner to highlight the delicious recipes they’d researched. Each patient left with a gift bag of recipes to try at home.