Jack Wilson thought he was tired from working too hard.
He never suspected that he might be sick.
“He went to the doctor in December 2013. Jack was 50 years old when he was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease,” said his wife, Earlene. “He was already at the point of needing a transplant.”
Doctors also discovered Jack had cancer in his left kidney and removed it, leaving him with one low-functioning kidney.
While he waits for a kidney transplant, Jack's life now depends on a large machine made for home hemodialysis, an artificial kidney that cleans his blood of waste and excess fluid.
Every other day, Jack sits in a leather recliner in a bedroom of his home, facing a flat-screen television while he is connected to the life-saving machine that cleans his blood.
“Being so young, it was suggested to us by hospital staff that Jack would be a good candidate for home dialysis,” Earlene said.
Jack receives dialysis every other day, beginning early in the morning and lasting about five hours.
Earlene said preparing the machine for Jack's treatment and hooking him up to the machine can take anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes depending on how organized she.
The Wilsons said they weren't aware home dialysis was an option. But it made sense for them because Jack could receive his treatments in the comfort of his own home.
“Jack is dependent on the machine. For us that would have meant every other day in the hospital.”
The couple admits they “were leery about home dialysis at first” because there was a lot to learn about the process.
“I have to insert all of Jack's needles into his arm before each treatment,” Earlene said.
The Niagara Health System provided the Wilsons with everything they need including supplies, equipment and the installation of a water purification system so Jack can receive his dialysis at home.
They also received seven weeks of training and have access to a 24-hour hotline to call if there are any problems or concerns during his dialysis treatments.
Jack said home dialysis has become easier thanks to support from NHS staff and his wife, Earlene.
“It's like riding a bicycle. Once you know how to do it, you just know how to do it,” he said.
“My wife is also a saint,” he added.
Earlene is always nearby in case Jack needs assistance.
She works full-time at the Stevensville Garden Gallery in addition to assisting Jack with his treatment. It hasn't been an easy road for the Wilsons but they are managing to make ends meet.
The Wilsons were looking forward to retirement and spending their golden years together until Jack got sick. Their children had left home and they had purchased their dream home, a farm on Bowen Road.
“We had to sell our farm when Jack got sick. The farm wasn't connected to city water and city sewers so we had to move and downsize.”
The Wilsons went from a dual-income family to living on just one income, a smaller home, one car and increased bills.
“We definitely struggled with all of the medical expensive. Jack has five drugs that we have to pay for that aren't covered by insurance,” Earlene said.
“Our water and hydro bills doubled because of the cost of running Jack's home dialysis.”
The Wilsons know their story is “similar to many other people” and that's why they want to help other families who are currently receiving home dialysis treatments.
“We want to help people,” Earlene said. “Even though we are at home, there are still costs involved. We have to make monthly trips to the hospital in Hamilton and that's at least a $50 day for gas and parking. That doesn't even include a meal.”
All those “extra expenses add up,” making a tight budget even tighter. But Earlene said she is grateful that Jack is able to receive his treatment at home.
“We believe in this program and if we had a choice to do it all over again, we would make the same decision.”
The Wilsons have created a charity called Bringing Chronic Smiles. All of the proceeds are donated to patients who have Chronic Kidney Disease.
The Wilsons held a garage sale last month and raised $800 in one day.
“With that money, we purchased grocery store and gas gift cards which will be given to home dialysis patients,” Earlene said.
Peggi Garner, a nurse with the Niagara Health System, taught the Wilsons how to do home dialysis. She has also been charged with the task of delivering the gift cards that were purchased with funds raised through Bringing Chronic Smiles to recipients.
“What inspires me about these two is that they took their own experiences and the reality of their struggles and turned it around,” Garner said.
For more information about Bringing Chronic Smiles visit www.bringingchronicsmiles.myevent.com. Donation boxes are also available at the Stevensville Garden Gallery, 2821 Stevensville Rd., in Stevensville.
Garner said she respects the Wilsons and their commitment to “ease the burden of home dialysis” for other families.
There are about 20 patients in Niagara that are currently receiving home hemodialysis in Niagara as part of the Kidney Care Program, said Cindy Bryson, clinical manager of outpatient kidney care program at the St. Catharines hospital.
“We’re trying to increase those numbers because it’s a lot better for patients’ outcomes so they don’t have to come to a hospital setting.”
The goal of the program to help patients live as “autonomously and independently” as they can by helping them takes control over the management of their disease.
In order to make patients more comfortable with the home treatment, Bryson said the NHS provides patients with training and all of the necessary equipment to do their dialysis at home. The program allows patients to learn more about their disease and take control of it.
For more information about the Kidney Care Program call Phone: 905.378.4647 ext. 43131.
Who: Jack and Earlene Wilson
What: The Stevensville residents want to help other families who have a loved one receiving home dialysis treatments.
Where: Donations can be dropped off at the Stevensville Garden Gallery, Stevensville Garden Gallery, 2821 Stevensville Rd., in Stevensville.
Why: The money will be used to purchase grocery and gas gift cards and distributed to families in need.