After Maria Duenas was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes about a decade ago, she managed the disease with diet and medication.
But Duenas’ kidneys started to fail just as the novel coronavirus established its lethal foothold in the U.S.
On March 19, three days after Duenas, 60, was rushed to the emergency room with dangerously high blood pressure and blood sugar, Gov. Gavin Newsom implemented the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order.
Less than one week later, Duenas was hooked up to a dialysis machine in the Century City neighborhood of Los Angeles, 160 miles from her Central Coast home, where tubes, pumps and tiny filters cleansed her blood of waste for 3½ hours, doing the work her kidneys could no longer do.
In the beginning, Duenas said she didn’t understand the severity of COVID-19, or her increased vulnerability to it. “It’s not going to happen to me,” she thought. “We’re in a small little town.”
But she was unable to find a spot in a dialysis clinic in, or near, Nipomo. So, with her husband, Jose, at her side, Duenas made long road trips to Century City for more than two months.
In May, Duenas’ doctor told her she was a good candidate for home dialysis, which would save her drive time and stress — and reduce her exposure to the virus.
Now, Duenas assiduously sterilizes herself and her surroundings five nights a week so she can administer dialysis to herself at home while she sleeps.
“There’s always a chance going in that somebody’s going to have COVID and still need dialysis” in a clinic, Duenas said. “I’m very grateful to have this option.”
The increase in home dialysis has accelerated recently, spurred by social-distancing requirements, increased use of telehealth and remote monitoring technologies — and fear of the virus.
While recent, comprehensive data is hard to come by, experts confirm the trend based on what they’re seeing in their own practices. Fresenius Medical Care North America, one of the country’s two dominant dialysis providers, said it conducted 25% more home dialysis training sessions in the first quarter of 2020 than in the same period last year, according to Renal & Urology News.
“People recognized it would be better if they did it at home,” said Dr. Susan Quaggin, president-elect of the American Society of Nephrology. “And certainly from a health provider’s perspective, we feel it’s a great option.”
Nearly half a million people in the United States are on dialysis, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Roughly 85% of them travel to a clinic for their treatments.
Dialysis patients are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and getting seriously ill with it, said Dr. Anjay Rastogi, director of the UCLA CORE Kidney Program, where Duenas is a patient.
In an analysis of more than 10,000 deaths in 15 states and New York City, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found about 40% of people killed by COVID-19 had diabetes. That percentage rose to half among people under 65.
But people on dialysis are also vulnerable to COVID-19 because they usually visit dialysis clinics two to three times a week for an average of four hours at a time, exposing themselves to other patients and, potentially, the virus, Rastogi said.
“Now even more so, we are strongly urging our patients to consider home dialysis,” he said.
This article was originally featured in Kaiser Health News, read more here.