Almost six years ago, Daniel Antle got sick. During a 19-day stay at Michael Garron Hospital, his life was put on hold when he learned he had kidney failure and would need dialysis.
“I came down to the dialysis unit and they told me I had to do four hours of treatment, three days a week,” he says.
“It was a lot to think about.”
When a patient’s kidneys fail, there are two options for survival: organ transplant or dialysis. Dialysis can replace some of a healthy kidney’s functions such as filtering waste products from the blood and removing excess fluids from the body, maintaining a safe balance of chemicals like potassium, sodium, and bicarbonate in the bloodstream, and helping to control blood pressure.
In East Toronto, rates of chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension —the most common illnesses causing kidney failure—are considerably higher than average. Each year, approximately 120 patients visit Michael Garron Hospital’s hemodialysis unit to receive this life-saving therapy. They are among the hospital’s most vulnerable patients: a high proportion are elderly; many live below the poverty line; many have multiple chronic illnesses like mental health concerns, diabetes, substance abuse disorder and heart disease; and social isolation is common.
So anything the hospital can do to improve health and quality of life for these patients is critical, says Rachel Whitty, Manager, Renal and Oncology Programs.
“Being on dialysis is hard – it’s such a big adjustment for patients’ lives,” she says.
To help ease the burden for patients who receive dialysis treatment, on Feb. 4, Michael Garron Hospital launched a new nocturnal dialysis program, starting with six patients. This treatment happens at night, when a patient is sleeping. The treatment is slower and gentler than daytime treatment as it is delivered over a longer period of time, while removing a greater amount of wastes and fluid from the blood. Studies have shown that nocturnal dialysis improves some patient outcomes significantly.
Daniel – one of the first patients to receive this new treatment – has been an important part of the program’s launch. The dialysis team engaged him as a patient partner to review communications and aspects of patient experience.
“I’m happy to help other patients who receive dialysis,” Daniel says. “It’s such a family – we really get to know each other and support each other. And the healthcare team is amazing. Everyone has such a positive attitude.”
Although Daniel is still new to nocturnal dialysis, he’s already noticed an effect on his quality of life.
“I don’t feel sick anymore,” he says. “I used to feel a lot of nausea and that’s gone away. I have more energy and my blood pressure is better already.”
“It’s working out really well.”
Receiving treatment at night gives patients back control of their daytime activities – going to work, spending time with family and friends, caring for children – empowering them to be more active and engaged in their life beyond their illness.
For Daniel, that means focusing on a healthy lifestyle and being able to earn a living.
“I’m being proactive about my health and staying on top of it. It’s so important,” he says.
“And I’m looking forward to being able to do everything I did before I got sick.”
Launching a nocturnal dialysis program will allow the hemodialysis unit to run 24 hours a day and increase patient capacity by approximately 20 per cent – a substantial improvement for a facility that currently has a waitlist.
However, the hospital’s aging reverse osmosis equipment – which purifies the water added to the patients’ blood – is operating at maximum capacity. In order to add capacity to the program, the equipment needed to be replaced .
Thanks to funding through the Garron family’s gift, this critical equipment is on its way to the hospital. When it arrives, the program will be able to double capacity for nocturnal dialysis and further increase capacity for the dialysis program.
Ultimately, it means more people from East Toronto will be able to benefit from this life-saving treatment close to home, instead of travelling across the city to another dialysis program – a barrier that could prevent marginalized patients from receiving care.
For patients like Daniel, their impact is nothing short of life saving.
“I’m so grateful I get top notch medical care through the Garrons’ gift,” he says.
“It’s a blessing, what they did. I and my fellow patients get to live every day – and the Garrons’ son gets to live on a daily basis through this hospital and through us.”