Helen Conklin, 97, used to visit Fresenius Medical Care three times a week to treat her chronic kidney disease, which she was diagnosed with about five years ago. But after she saw a nurse demonstrating peritoneal dialysis, a mode of dialysis that allows her to dialyze at home, she only has to stop by the clinic twice a month.
“I’ve become the poster child,” Conklin said with a laugh.
For nearly a year and a half, Conklin has been using peritoneal dialysis and educating patients about her experience when she visits the clinic.
“We reference her all the time,” said Anne Teja, RN, clinical manager at Fresenius Medical Care, located at 2814 Post Road in Warwick. “If there is someone who is not quite sure if they are interested, we know that Helen is ready to speak with them and tell them what it’s like. I think that breaks the ice for a lot of people.”
Conklin is one of 26 million Americans with chronic kidney disease (CKD), and among 400,000 individuals with CKD who develop kidney failure. She believes she has convinced at least a few patients to use peritoneal dialysis, as she informs them of the benefits she experiences.
“I tell them how easy it is,” she said, pointing out that she lives on her own. “Being able to do it from home has made me feel better.”
Aside from saving time, the at-home option saves her money. While it’s covered by her health insurance, it is less costly than visiting the clinic multiple times per week because she’s not responsible for co-pays.
It also helps keep Conklin well rested, as it is an overnight process. She hooks up to the machine through a catheter before going to bed, and it’s complete by morning.
“Then, I’m good for the day,” she said, noting that she doesn’t feel tired because she sleeps through it. She also doesn’t have to worry about getting up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, which prevents the risk of falls. The machine doesn’t make any noise unless something goes wrong, such as the loss of electrical power, in which case an alarm would sound.
Additionally, it allows Conklin to maintain independence. She continues to enjoy activities, such as watching her favorite networks, including Animal Planet and the History Channel, plus going to local theaters. Her daughter has season tickets to the Ocean State Theater Company, Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC) and Theater By the Sea.
“We’ve been going to Theatre By the Sea for over 20 years during the summer and PPAC every winter,” she said. “I’m looking forward to that again this year.”
Teja said Conklin once told her that she loves that fact that she doesn’t have to travel to the center as often in the wintertime, as roads are often slick with ice and snow. And while she no longer drives due to deteriorating eyesight, she doesn’t have to stress about getting rides to the center multiple times per week.
“Another thing that helps is a positive attitude,” Conklin said. “I’ve had ups and downs all my life, but I’ve always looked on the good side of things.”
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Conklin lived in New Jersey and Connecticut before relocating to Warwick in 1943. She began treatment at Fresenius Medical Care about five years ago, starting on hemodialysis, an in-center mode in which patients have an access in their arm. Blood is filtered through an artificial kidney, toxins are removed and the blood is pumped back.
Peritoneal dialysis is done through the abdomen. No blood is drawn during the process. The fluid goes into the peritoneal cavity and the toxins are removed through electrolyte solutions that are pumped into the cavity before draining out.
“Helen was very strong in her knowledge of what she wanted to do and was willing to try home therapy to see how it made her feel,” Teja said. “She’s done everything that we’ve asked her to. She’s adhered to her treatments and I think that’s why she feels as well as she does. Her health is a testimony to her condition.”
Teja said the staff at Fresenius Medical Care educates patients of their treatment options, such as home therapy or in-center dialysis, to determine what will work best for them. Underlying problems they have, along with doctor recommendations, are also considered.
“It also depends how they react to the mode of dialysis,” she said. “Helen could have either. And we have a training program for patients. Sometimes they need a partner at home.”
Conklin is able to prepare the machine on her own, though she gets some help from family and friends.
“I live alone, but my daughter comes and does a lot for me,” she said. “Fresenius delivers my supplies once a month. I have wonderful support. They are the nicest group of people that I’ve ever met. They are all caring and lovable.”
Teja said she and the staff at the clinic feel the same about Conklin. They appreciate her willingness to encourage others.
“We want to thank you for all the help you’ve given to our patients,” Teja said. “You’ve really been an inspiration.”
“I’m happy to do it,” she said.
Through more than 3,119 clinics in North America, Europe, Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Africa, Fresenius Medical Care provides kidney dialysis treatments to approximately 253,041 patients worldwide. Contact them at 738-4050, or visit UltraCare-dialysis.com for more information.