Brandon Eck

Brandon Eck is a patient care technician for the DaVita dialysis center's emergency response team. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / January 25, 2012)

Dialysis is a lifesaving treatment for those with kidney disorders. But during emergencies, particularly bad weather, sometimes patients don't want to go — or can't get to — their usual dialysis center. There are some steps patients can take to prepare, says Brandon Eck at the DaVita dialysis centers, who volunteers with the company's emergency response team, DaVERT.

What is dialysis and why it so important?

Dialysis is a life-sustaining therapy for patients whose kidneys no longer function properly. Dialysis removes wastes and excess fluid from the blood, which would normally be done by the kidneys. The two main types of dialysis are hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. … Without this treatment, our patients would not be able to survive.

What are the risks for dialysis patients if they miss treatments?

Patients who miss treatments can experience fluid overload, which can lead to congestive heart failure, shortness of breath, an elevated level of potassium which can lead to a heart attack, and a host of other symptoms and complications.

It's winter, so isn't it common to miss a dialysis treatment in an emergency?

We encourage our patients not to miss any of their regular treatments, but Mother Nature has a habit of throwing us a few surprises throughout the year. When one of those surprises occurs, we have emergency-preparedness plans in place. We assist our patients with their treatment options, such as a change of time and/or day, as well as receiving care at another facility if it is more convenient for the patient during a weather emergency.

How can dialysis patients prepare for an emergency?

Specific to inclement weather, one of the highlights of [a] plan is a shopping list of renal-friendly foods that can be purchased ahead of time and kept on hand. This diet is reviewed with [our] patients prior to any forecasted emergency as well as routinely throughout the year. … Patients are instructed to monitor and restrict their fluid intake during this time. Patients are also encouraged to create an emergency kit, which includes phone numbers for doctors and their dialysis center, three days' worth of medications with a list of the dosage amounts, access to clean water, food, can opener, first-aid supplies, battery-operated flashlight and radio, and, if diabetic, a week's worth of necessary supplies. Dialysis patients should register with their local county emergency management agency. A weather-alert radio is always a good idea too.

What are the dietary changes that dialysis patients can make in the event they miss a treatment?

DaVita encourages patients to monitor and adjust their fluid intake, keeping in mind that anything that turns to liquid at room temperature is considered a liquid. Patients should also monitor and limit their intake of potassium-rich foods and beverages. Salt intake should also be monitored and adjusted, as this can increase thirst. Registered dietitians [can] review specific plans with each patient prior to a forecasted weather event, as well as [have] monthly interactions.

What steps are important to take for your health all year round?

It is important for everyone to routinely follow up with your physician and receive preventive testing, such as a kidney screening. DaVita also encourages everyone to receive the necessary vaccinations, particularly the flu vaccine. Eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and daily exercise are also important to maintaining health. These steps are not just recommended for dialysis patients, but for everyone.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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