More than 2 million Canadians are living with kidney disease, and when that illness runs its full course, the lifesaving treatment that many of them rely on is dialysis. Dialysis, the process of cleaning the blood when the kidneys can no longer do so, has been with us since the 1940s, but a lot has changed since then.

“The machines are much better than they used to be,” says Dr. Peter Blake, Provincial Medical Director of the Ontario Renal Network.” There are a lot of new bells and whistles but, fundamentally, it’s the same principles of diffusion.” Those bells and whistles translate into a vastly improved experience for patients.

While traditional hemodialysis requires three weekly visits to a hospital or clinic, with each visit taking four to five hours, newer automated peritoneal dialysis (APD Cyclers) machines allow patients to manage their own dialysis at home while they sleep, which is far less disruptive to their lives and has other advantages as well.

More cost effective and convenient dialysis

“There are different reasons to promote home peritoneal dialysis,” says Dr. Blake. “One is that it’s cost-effective. The second reason is that many patients like the control that it gives them, which offsets the loss of control that patients feel when they are first diagnosed with kidney failure. Further, it keeps them out of hospitals, which is a big plus since hospitals are expensive and full of potentially harmful germs. It also fits in with modern paradigms of patient empowerment and helping people guide their own care and take control of their own illness.”

The newest machines, such as Baxter’s Amia Automated PD Cycler with Sharesource Connectivity, offer two-way communication between the device and health care providers, allowing the health care team to effectively be in the home without having to be in the home. Clinicians have the ability to make more timely clinical decisions based on the data provided and change prescriptions remotely. And, given that Canada is such an expansive country, that ability to provide care remotely is of huge importance.

“If you live in a remote area like in northern Ontario or northern Quebec, the only alternative to home dialysis is to relocate,” says Dr. Blake. “And relocating can be devastating, especially for an older person.” Accessibility becomes even more relevant when you realize that many of Canada’s most remote communities are home to aboriginal Canadians, who suffer from kidney disease at a rate three times the national average.

7,000 kilometres by bicycle while on dialysis

Given how incredibly large Canada is, you might think that being on dialysis would dramatically limit someone’s ability to get out and explore this beautiful country. Pish posh to that, says Dale Calibaba, a British Columbia man who has been on different forms of dialysis for roughly 30 years, since his kidneys failed at the age of 17. He’s also had two hip replacements, three heart attacks and triple bypass heart surgery, but he hasn’t let any of that slow him down. In fact, testing the true flexibility of home dialysis, Dale used his challenges as motivation to do the unthinkable: riding his bicycle the breadth of Canada, with his trusty APD cycler in tow.

“When people are told that their kidneys are failing and they have to go on dialysis, the first thing that goes through their mind is this image of having to constantly go to the hospital for five hours at a time,” says Calibaba. “This is part of why I did my ride, to promote awareness of home dialysis.”

Baxter, a leader in home dialysis, has long been a supporter of Dale’s efforts and it is a testament to the convenience and portability of their home peritoneal dialysis machines, that Calibaba was able to undertake such a ride without interrupting his dialysis. What’s more, it provides an important message to other dialysis patients that they not only can remain physically fit, but that they really should. “There is always hope and there is no need for excuses,” says Calibaba. “Dialysis patients need to stay physically active for their health and their self-esteem.”

As new technological advances continue to be made in home peritoneal dialysis machines, more and more patients are finding that they can dialyze without interrupting their lives.