TRAVERSE CITY -- Dialysis changed Alan Norton's life when he started the regimen early this year.
"I guess people don't realize how bad it is until they crash," Norton said. "You just don't know how bad you're feeling, and I can tell you that in just five months it's taken me back years and years. I haven't felt this good for a long time."
Norton, 68, has diabetes and other health problems that stem from Agent Orange exposure he received while he served in the Vietnam war.
Health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, genetic disorders and other illnesses can cause kidney failure. Dialysis essentially replaces kidneys, and patients are hooked up to dialysis machines that filter their blood a few times per week.
Norton is a Munson Medical Center dialysis patient. Munson has two clinics in Traverse City and the Elizabeth C. Hosick Dialysis Center at Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital in Frankfort, and it manages the Kalkaska Dialysis Center.
The Frankfort and Kalkaska dialysis clinics were built in the last decade, but Munson Dialysis Services Resource Clinician Mary Haverty-Robinson said that's not enough to fill a growing dialysis demand.
"We're expanding because there's increased cardiovascular (disease) and diabetes in the community," Haverty-Robinson said. "We see that come down the line, and that forces us to treat those patients that end up with kidney failure."
The Hosick center in Frankfort is slated to double in size to offer 12 chairs instead of just six. Construction should start this fall.
Patients with weakened or failed kidneys can get kidney transplants instead of dialysis.
Kidneys are hard to come by. There are more than 2,600 Michigan residents waiting for kidney transplants, and the average wait is five years. The average amount of time a patient can survive on dialysis also is five years, although Haverty-Robinson said some patients survive more than 20.
The University of Michigan and other organizations use a Paired Donor Exchange to help. Patients who bring an organ donor get connected with other pairs around the country who are donation matches.
Norton may be one of those patients to receive a kidney through the Paired Donor Exchange. His granddaughter is donating a kidney so he can get a match in return.
He will travel to Ann Arbor on Oct. 1 to see if he's eligible for a transplant.
"I'm good either way," he said. "Dialysis is a lifesaver, and if I'm not (eligible) I just feel that dialysis certainly isn't the worst thing that could happen to a guy."
Munson dialysis centers and the University of Michigan hosted a Transplant Expo for local dialysis patients and potential kidney donors in August. Patients spoke with peer mentors who already had the surgery or are on dialysis.
“Seeing somebody walk around after their transplant, it
gives people hope that they’re not going to be tethered to that machine for the
rest of their lives," Haverty-Robinson said. "I think
all of our patients need to have hope, and I think this expo really helped do