Chronic Kidney Disease: The Long-Term Battle

When I see the daily battle my patients endure to lead a full and normal life, I am reminded of the story in Greek Mythology of Sisyphus, the founder and king of Corinth. Sisyphus was a sinner and condemned for eternity to roll a large boulder uphill then watch as it rolled back down the hill again and thus resume his struggle. This is very much like the real-life experiences of people who must struggle with chronic kidney disease (CKD) day after day.

I interviewed two individuals who have been performing frequent home hemodialysis treatments for more than 10 years. Jenna Smith is 31 years old and lives in Seattle, Washington. She first started peritoneal dialysis at age 7 after being diagnosed with glomerulonephritis. At 14, she underwent a kidney transplant from her father but the recurrent disease caused it to fail. Jenna was trained to do hemodialysis at home five days a week and she remains on home hemodialysis 16 years later. She has done well, completed college and is now a Building Information Modeler, working full time in addition to leading an active life. She credits family support and the nurses at the University of Iowa for creating a strong foundation that’s allowed her to live a fulfilling life.

Erich Ditschman was 17 when he developed gout. By the age of 36 his kidneys had failed completely. He underwent a kidney transplant from his wife but the new kidney failed due to FSGS (focal and segmental glomerulosclerosis). He tried in-center hemodialysis three times a week, standard hemodialysis at home and peritoneal dialysis, but did not feel well. After his second failed transplant 12 years ago, his nephrologist suggested home hemodialysis. Since then, Erich has remained vibrant and active, caring for his two children (ages 13 and 17) and living in Michigan with his wife. He credits his strong desire to be alive and caring for family as motivation for doing well. He remains active in the community and is involved with the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan as well as nationally.

I tried to get a sense of how these two individuals could live seemingly normal lives while continuing to battle CKD. Both of their stories were similar to those of other patients I have observed over the years. Early in their diagnosis, many are overwhelmed and try to survive day-to-day. At some point, an inner resolve takes over to make the commitment for the long-term battle. In some cases, this is facilitated by strong family support, and in others there is a strong sense of personal commitment that allows one to roll the boulder up the hill every day. I applaud these two individuals on their inner strength and resolve to lead a “normal life” and contribute to their community, family and enjoyment of life.

The United States Renal Data System reported 8593 patients on home hemodialysis at the end of 2014. These two individuals are among a very select group of patients who provide an example of strong will and determination to live a normal life on dialysis.

Learn more about home hemodialysis.

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