4/15/02 - Nickel-Sized Device Makes Dialysis More Tolerable

Dialysis can be a life saver for folks with kidney related diseases, but it can be painful and exhausting. Now a new tool is making it easier for a few Heartland patients. It's called a "life site." It's just about the size of a nickel, and is made out of titanium and stainless steel. It's very small, but it's making a big difference for some kidney dialysis patients.

For three years, dialysis treatments have kept William Thompson alive. Diabetes has caused his kidneys to fail. He's waiting for a new kidney, but until he has a transplant he knows he'll have to keep getting dialysis. That's why he had surgery to get a life site to make his treatments a little easier. "The graft in my arm didn't always work well and caused nerve damage and a lot of pain in my hand," Thompson says.

Two life sites are implanted into a person's chest. The tube goes into a vein, and right into the heart. A special needle goes into the life site. Both life sites work together to draw and return blood.

It's only been a few weeks since Thompson got his life sites, so it still hurts a little bit when he gets dialysis. But nurses, like Marty Willis at Cape County Regional Dialysis Center say that won't last long. He says life sites allow easier access to the veins, and decreases the risk of infection. "We're able to get a higher blood flow rate, and a higher blood flow rate will equal better treatment, so we can maybe shorten the time by thirty minutes or an hour," Willis says. "They tell me they're going to develop like a new hole in an ear, like when you get an earring, after a while it's not going to hurt as much," Thompson says.

Of course, every kidney dialysis patient is different. Doctors have to look over patients individual case and condition to see if the life site would work for them. Only a few people in the Heartland have a life site, their surgeries were done in St. Louis.