Better Winnipeg: New portable dialysis machine offers patients more freedom

WINNIPEG — In Manitoba there are about 1,500 people on dialysis, needing help to clear their body of toxins because their kidneys can’t do it on their own.

That number keeps increasing.

A new research team at Seven Oaks General Hospital is looking at innovative ways to improve the quality of life for people on dialysis.

One of the ways is through a new portable machine that can clean the patient’s blood from the comforts of home — a machine that only weighs about 70 pounds and can easily be taken to different locations.

Mendel Schnitzer took his NxStage home hemodialysis machine to his cottage over the summer, offering a degree of freedom he hasn’t had in years.

“I knew that it would be a better quality of life period and more freedom for me,” says Schnitzer, who was first diagnosed with kidney problems in 1985.

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“Doctors said I probably had strep throat that was misdiagnosed and it manifested itself in the kidneys and my whole immune system killed my kidneys.”

With no kidney function – Schnitzer relies on hemodialysis and with his new portable device he’s able to get the treatment while he sleeps.

Schnitzer has the mini computer set up in his bedroom, complete with all the tubing, and tools he needs.

By doing the dialysis overnight at home, he’s able to get the treatment longer, averaging about 36 hours a week, compared to about 12 hours of dialysis most patients receive in hospital.

Schnitzer is one of only 15 people in the province using this new kind of portable machine at home. It’s been life changing, eliminating his three visits a week for treatment in hospital.

“I only have to go to the hospital once a month,” explains Schnitzer.

“This is a lot better than three times a week. I’m not tethered even though the hospital is a wonderful place, with wonderful doctors and nurses.”

“For me to get to the hospital it took about a half an hour. I’d be there for 4-5 hours and then you get home and you’re dead tired after all that blood is taken out of your body and circulated. I wasn’t in good shape.”

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Seven Oaks General Hospital is where Schnitzer used to go regularly for dialysis.

The facility is home to one of the largest hemodialysis units in the country.

“We’re usually first or second in incidence of chronic kidney disease patients requiring life sustaining hemo dialysis,” says Dr. Paul Komenda, research director at Seven Oaks Hospital.

With the rate on the rise, Dr. Komenda and a team of researchers are looking at ways to improve quality of life for patients on dialysis. For some, that comes from machines like the NxStage.

“One cartridge goes into the machine. A button is pressed and in ten minutes the patient is ready to dialyze where as before it was over an hour,” says Komenda.

“This has cut training time for patients in half, lowered barrier to entry for many patients to go onto the therapy and allows patients to dialyze more frequently. Very often because it’s not such a burden to set up and take down. So we feel this will be a major step forward in getting more patients home.

Researchers at Seven Oaks Hospital are also looking at prevention as a critical piece. Staff have been working on screening programs to help at-risk individuals. And for those who are already in need of dialysis, getting them the best option in care.

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“We’re focusing on home dialysis modality, so things people can do more independantly which subsequently gives them better quality of life at a lower cost to the health care system.”

For Schnitzer, the home hemodialysis unit he uses has meant more time to enjoy some of the simple pleasures in life, like days spent with his family at his cottage at the lake.

“This machine gave me longer life, better freedom, and almost a normal life.”

Seven Oaks General Hospital Foundation is putting on a fundraising dinner on October 15th to help support the research being done at the facility.

For more information you can go to their website

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