By Joe Klemann
Mike Day has lived in Hagerstown for 41 years and has been married to Lynn for the same amount of time. They have three children and a grandchild. As Mike tells it, he was a healthy, scrappy young man until he turned 57 and went to his doctor one morning.
“I stopped in to the doctor one morning on my way to work at Petro Truck Stop,” begins Mike. “I was having a headache that felt like someone was taking a sledgehammer to the back of my skull.”
Earlier in the month, Mike had been having swelling in his legs so his doctor took him off his blood pressure pill and the inflammation went away. Mike had been on medication for high blood pressure since 1992, until that day of June 17, 2011.
Mike intended to stop in the medical office, get checked and receive something for the pain before heading back to work. Instead, he was detoured to the hospital with a blood pressure of 220 over 140. A normal BP is 120 over 70. A hypertensive (high blood pressure) of 180/120 or greater can easily result in a severe stroke.
Three days after his admission into Reid Hospital, he was on dialysis. They rushed to have a temporary chest port implanted that feeds directly to the heart. High blood pressure scarred Mike’s kidneys and it eventually killed them.
When Mike learned he needed to start dialysis immediately, he admits he was scared to death and asked the doctors if he was going to live. That will be seven years, this June.
Hemodialysis, or kidney dialysis, replaces the work of your own kidneys. It clears wastes and extra fluid from your blood through a port placed in your arm or chest. A couple of needles and plastic tubing take the blood to a “dialyzer” that cleans the blood and returns it to you.
“It’s something you dread every time you got to go,” admits Mike, who made the trip three times a week for a four hour treatment. “In my mind, I always tried to think of excuses not to go but I knew my life depended on it.”
The worst part of dialysis, as most patients will tell you, is putting on too much fluid and having the treatment take it off. A patient has many restrictions but one of the hardest is limiting his fluid intake. The machine must do in four hours what a healthy kidney would do in 24 hours.
“My blood pressure would plummet and I would start to feel sick and lightheaded if I put on to much fluid. After a treatment, I felt like I had been worked to death. I’d come home extremely tired. After eating a sandwich, I might sleep from 2 to 5 hours. The day of dialysis was usually shot but things would come back around to normal the next day. Then the cycle starts back up.”
Cancer has thrown a wrench into Mike’s hope of getting a transplant not once, but twice. “I had some liver trouble and they wanted me to go have an endoscopy. I put it off for six months until I admitted to Lynn that if I don’t get this done, that doctor is going to eat me alive.”
Mike had the procedure done and between his esophagus and stomach was a growth. They sent him to IU Med Center in Indy and after a biopsy was performed, it was positive of fast growing esophagus carcinoma. A cat scan showed they had found it extremely early and it had not spread. Although it was quickly removed and Mike never saw any chemo or radiation, his timetable for being on the transplant list was delayed for two years.
Then, in April of 2017, a routine check of Mike’s calcium levels that are controlled by the parathyroids glands were discovered to be hyperactive. During exploratory surgery, something looked odd. A biopsy discovered that Mike had thyroid cancer and it had spread into the bottom of his neck. Surgery was once again scheduled and he later received one treatment of radioactive iodine that went right to the thyroid and killed it.
Mike defeated two bouts of cancer but was set back two years in waiting for a kidney. In about a year and a month, he can get back on the waiting list again. The good thing is, his time goes back to when he started dialysis so he will then have 8 total years on the waiting list.
Mike’s lifestyle would take a different route one day in the Richmond dialysis center when someone mentioned if he might be interested in home dialysis. He liked the idea of being a little more independent and not having to get out in the winter. After minor surgery to implant a catheter in his abdomen, a home dialysis unit next to the bed and a massive amount of medical supplies and he is not making the three day a week trip anymore.
“You do dialysis every day. I do a three hour session from 1 to 4 o’clock and when I go to bed at night for 8 hours. The longer periods of time are more like your real kidneys work. The home route is so much easier on the body.”
Next year, Mike will officially be back on the waiting list for a kidney again. A simple blood test can begin the determination if you are a candidate to donate a kidney if you have ever considered giving the gift of life.
“The best thing about Michael being on dialysis is it is keeping him alive,” said Lynn, who helps coach him through these tough times.
Finally, Mike is very serious about warning people to check and control their blood pressure. “I would take it very seriously or it can change your life and not for the good.”
March is National Kidney Month. Here are a few facts provided by the National Kidney Foundation.
The kidneys are two, fist-sized organs in your lower back. They maintain overall health through the following functions:
Filtering waste out of 200 liters of blood each day.
Regulating of the body’s salt, potassium and acid content.
Removing of drugs from the body.
Balancing the body’s fluids.
Releasing hormones that regulate blood pressure.
Producing an active form of vitamin D that promotes strong, healthy bones.
Controlling the production of red blood cells.
Quick Facts on Kidney Disease:
Kidney disease is the 9th leading cause of death in the country.
More than 30 million Americans have kidney disease, and most don’t know it.
There are over 95,000 people waiting for kidney transplants.
More than 590,000 people have kidney failure in the US today.

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