HANCOCK - There are places Leonard "Bill" Cardinal would probably rather be on a Friday morning than undergoing treatment at the Portage Health Dialysis Center.
But as has become his routine over most of the past four years, Cardinal is lying back, hooked up the machine while covered with a University of Michigan blanket.
Has he noticed a improvement in how he feels?
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Leonard “Bill” Cardinal of Baraga undergoes dialysis at the Portage Health Dialysis Center Friday. People with kidney disease must undergo dialysis as a way to perform the kidneys’ functions of purifying the bloodstream of waste and excess water.
"Not so much when I first started," he said. "Now I do."
The Baraga native is one of about 26 million Americans with chronic kidney disease.
Kidneys primarily filter out waste in the bloodstream; if the kidney becomes unable to carry out the tasks, they have to be replicated by machine through dialysis.
Most kidney disease can be traced to some combination of high blood pressure and diabetes, said Karen Kelley, director of dialysis at Portage Health. As those have become more prevalent, so has kidney disease.
Patients are usually older, though there's a wide age range. Kelley said she's seen patients as young as 18 and as old as 96.
There are several stages of kidney disease, demarcated by eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate). A person with normally functioning kidneys will have a rate in the 90s or above. In stage three, that drops to below 30; by stage 5, when a patient is in dialysis, it drops to under 15.
Kelley said she'd like to see Portage Health open up a CKD clinic, including preventative elements, such as modifying their diet or taking specific medications.
"I can't sit here as dialysis manager and not talk about how we can prevent them from going to dialysis in the first place," she said.
Many symptoms, such as lethargy, are so subtle that most people don't notice they have a serious problem until they're diagnosed.
"I have people tell me when they go on dialysis, 'I didn't realize how sick I was; I feel so much better now,'" Kelley said.
Patients undergo dialysis a minimum of three times per week for a minimum of three hours, though it averages about four to four-and-a-half. They come from all over the area, from Mass City to Copper Harbor.
"I think with dialysis, people are definitely living longer, healthier than they were before," Kelley said.
While dialysis is improving the quality of patients' lives, it also throws a routine wrench into them.
"It impacts your lifestyle," Cardinal said. "You can't do things you would normally do."
Kelley said volunteering to give kidney patients rides is another way people in the community could volunteer.
In Cardinal's case, his wife, Julia, drives him to the hospital.
"If it wasn't for her, I don't know if I'd be here," he said.
Another option for patients is transplants. There are currently more than 1 million people in the Michigan donor registry.
Out of the 39 patients currently at Portage, six are on the transplant list. Eligibility is based on medical condition or age -those too advanced are ineligible. Three patients have had transplants in the past year. Donors can come both from the family and outside it.
"That often happens, where people are willing to give, but they just aren't the right match for their loved one," she said.
Cardinal first started dialysis four years ago; he took a break after one year when it appeared he was improving. He returned after a conversation with his doctor, who told him he was in the last stage of kidney failure.
I said, 'Last stage!" That's really what motivated me to return," he said. "I'm glad I did."
Garrett Neese can be reached at email@example.com.