Dialysis is ‘do or die’

Ashley
Ashley Thompson
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Windsor couple breaking bank to make appointments

Frances and Richard LaPierre are breaking the bank to go to Berwick three times a week for Richard’s dialysis treatments. The couple is urging the provincial government to see to it that dialysis services are established in the Hants Community Hospital.

After nearly 48 years of marriage, Richard and Frances LaPierre have already paid for their home once.

But, the Windsor residents’ dreams of enjoying a relatively debt-free retirement, sans mortgage payments, didn’t quite pan out as they had hoped.

The couple has been travelling to Halifax, or Berwick, three times a week for Richard’s dialysis treatments since his kidneys failed in 1999.

“We’re seniors on a fixed income trying to do this running up and down the road thing,” Frances said during an interview at their home.

“We had our house paid for once, now we have a mortgage back on it. Right now, we’re taking money from our groceries to get back and forth,” her husband, a retired heavy equipment operator, added.

The commute averages 45 minutes each way.

“I gotta leave here at 6 o’ clock in the morning in order to be there for seven and, I tell ya, a well man can hardly put up with that. But, you do what you gotta do,” Richard said.

For dialysis patients, doing what you have to do means making it to treatment appointments regardless of the road conditions.

“You risk your life to do it,” said Frances, recalling some frightening drives on icy roads.

“You have to do it; it’s do or die.”

Richard, 68, is hooked to a dialysis machine, a device that cleanses his blood and drains excess fluid and harmful toxins from his body, for five and a half hours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

When Frances drives her husband to the West Kings Memorial Health Centre in Berwick, she waits in the car until his treatment is finished.

“Dialysis is your life,” she said.

Richard concurs.

“The day of dialysis, that day is a write off. I don’t feel like doing (anything),” he said.

The treatment leaves Richard feeling too weak to stand at the side of the road and hail a bus. The ever-increasing costs of transportation leave him feeling leery of the future.

“If something were to happen to me, she’s in an awful mess because all of our money has gone into getting back and forth, running to doctor’s appointments, (and) buying vehicles when they wear out,” Richard said.

“We just can’t keep going that way.”

The LaPierres do not qualify for financial assistance.

“When they see what I got for a house, they think I don’t need (help),” Richard said.

“Well, I worked all my life for this and I had it paid for — now I’m mortgaging it to get back and forth and I don’t think it’s a bit fair.”

“Any treatment that calls for three times a week, to me, that is something that should take priority.” Frances LaPierre

Frances says she wants to see a kidney dialysis satellite office established in the Hants Community Hospital in Windsor, fives minutes down the road from their home.

“Any treatment that calls for three times a week, to me, that is something that should take priority,” she said, noting that they are not the only Hants County residents in this position.

“If we own… the hospital, and there is space in it, why can’t they put it in there for everybody that needs it?”

Hants West MLA Chuck Porter has been asking the provincial government the same question since he learned Windsor would not benefit from a $998,000 investment in dialysis services within the Capital Health District.

The progressive conservative MLA says he will continue to push for dialysis services in Hants County until he feels his constituents’ needs have been met.

“We are still working on it, but we have no commitment from the provincial government at this point,” said Porter, speaking on the behalf of his party.

“We’ll certainly be asking questions during question period about the government’s commitment to health care in Hants County.”

The Hants Community Hospital Foundation has offered to fundraise for two dialysis machines, at $40,000 each, to be installed in the Payzant Drive hospital if the provincial government will cover the cost of staffing the units.  

Nicole Brooks, a communications officer for the Department of Health and Wellness, says having the machines bought and paid for is only one factor that is considered when new dialysis sites are mapped out.

“Unfortunately, purchasing the equipment does not guarantee… a unit can be established,” Brooks said.

 “While we commend the community for its generosity, there are a number of things that have to be considered before a dialysis unit can open.”

Brooks said the positioning of dialysis satellite offices depends on the number of patients requiring the treatment in an area, if a local hospital has space for the equipment, the costs of staffing units and location.

“We all want quality care for dialysis patients, and Nova Scotians, and for patients to be treated closer to their home,” said Brooks.

“But meeting the demand for dialysis is a challenge.”

Organizations: Hants Community Hospital Foundation, Payzant Drive hospital, Department of Health and Wellness

Geographic location: Windsor, Berwick, Halifax Hants County Hants Community

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  • Robert Younker
    September 01, 2011 - 12:43

    When I was a teenager, my next door neighbour required kidney dialysis. That was the early 80s. At that time, they were set up with their own dialysis machine in their home and his wife was given the training required to use it. They handled it themselves until his passing many years later. If the machine can be acquired for only $40,000, I wonder why this situation cannot be similarly handled. In case you are wondering, the neighbours in question had no previous medical training and were both seniors.