Minister gets a dialysis lesson as new $5m unit opens

Last updated 05:00 21/03/2014

COMFY SPOT: Dialysis patient William Rees is one of a growing number of New Zealanders who need treatment for renal failure.

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Without it, he is the first to admit, he'd be a goner.

As kidney patient William Rees, 82, explained to Health Minister Tony Ryall yesterday, dialysis has made his life.

"If I didn't have it, I'd last maybe five days, a week," the Tawa resident said, before giving the minister a quick lesson on how to work a machine at the Wellington Renal Service's new $5 million unit at Kenepuru Hospital.

"I had heart surgery in 2010, and that knocked my kidneys right out. From that time on, I've been a dialysis patient."

He leaned back on one of the beds in the 24-bed capacity unit and said: "I don't think I'll go home."

Kidney failure is an rising problem nationwide, with 7 per cent more patients needing treatment every year. Health problems relating to obesity and an ageing population are the main culprits.

The 240 patients in the Wellington region who need dialysis treatment have to be hooked up to a machine for five hours a day, three days a week.

A healthy person's kidneys will flush their blood of toxins and waste. If someone has renal failure, their body cannot get rid of those products.

Kidney transplants can be a solution, but unless a friend or family member donates, it is a long wait. More than 600 people are currently on the list.

A dialysis machine acts like an artificial kidney, filtering the patient's blood. The body contains about five litres of blood - over the five hours that patients are attached to the machine; 90 litres will flush through. "I used to tell people, you'll feel a bit like you've been through a washing machine," said Wellington Renal Service clinical leader Murray Leikis.

Kenepuru Hospital's new unit will help to cater for about 110 patients in Wairarapa, Hutt and Wellington, alongside the existing unit in Wellington Hospital. The other 136 patients administer dialysis themselves at home.

The unit is spacious, light, and practically earthquake and fire-proof, making it a huge step up from the previous cramped nine-bed location in Porirua's BNZ Tower, Mr Leikis said.

"We have been really stretched. We were forecasting the need for this capacity to treat people a long time ago."

In the event of an earthquake, the new unit could be operational within 24 hours.

During the Christchurch earthquake, dialysis patients had to be flown to Auckland for treatment - which took more than 48 hours.

The Kenepuru unit is one of 10 opened nationally in the past five years.

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- The Dominion Post

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