Since June 2006, Oliva Garcia, 46, has been undergoing dialysis treatment to take care of her chronic kidney disease, which causes the functions of her kidneys to decline at an abnormal rate.
“At first my feet started to swell, but later it spread to my whole body,” said Garcia as she remembered the symptom that caused her to visit a doctor, which resulted in her diagnosis. “ The doctor said I needed to start my dialysis treatment.”
Garcia was in the midst of one of her hemodialysis sessions at the Satellite Dialysis Center in South Gate, which opened its doors in October, as she recounted her personal story.
Hispanics, which make up over 90 percent of South Gate, are 1.5 times more likely to reach the most serious stages of the disease than in non-Hispanic whites, according to the United States Data Renal System.
Dialysis is a process that allows patients to have their blood cleansed from toxins and excessive water, which is required for a person’s body to function healthily and live. This is done with the help of a dialysis machine that works like an artificial kidney. There are different forms of dialysis, and hemodialysis requires that a patient hook themselves to dialysis machine three times a week for 3-hour sessions.
The prevalence of chronic kidney disease has been on the rise in the United States for some time. Medicare funded programs that treat the latest stages of the disease increased from just 10,000 in the 1970’s to more then half a million by 2008, according to the United States Data Renal System.
“We foresaw that this was a community we could serve,” said Maria Rachel Nicolas, Clinical Manager of Satellite Dialysis in South Gate, when asked if South Gate’s and its predominantly Hispanic neighboring areas was part of the reason for opening the clinic. “We have forecasted that since the beginning.”
This is also a reality that is reflected in the race and ethnicities of the patients that attend the Satellite Dialysis Center. The clinic currently services around 40 patients of which 63 percent are Hispanic.
“I would say awareness and early detection,” said Dr. Andy Hong, a nephrologist at Satellite Dialysis, when asked about why Hispanics had a higher rate of chronic kidney disease.
A lot of the cases that are referred to Dr. Hong are in the more serious phases of the disease, such as stage 4 or 5, which means dialysis treatment or kidney transplant are the only options. Stages 1 and 2 of chronic kidney disease can be maintained, and even reversed, with the right treatment.
“At least 30 percent of the new patients we take come through emergency rooms or through primary physician,” said Dr. Hong, who added that around 60 percent of these late referrals have been Hispanic, since he first started working as a nephrologist in South East Los Angeles 7 years ago. “Unfortunately this is a common occurrence.”
Jose Gomez, 43, is a patient who found out about his fragile kidney condition on a doctors visit 7 years ago.
“I started getting a head aches and I started getting nose bleeds,” said Gomez, as he received one of his hemodialysis sessions at Satellite Dialysis. “After some tests they found that I had this problem.”
Hispanics are not the only demographic that struggles with lack of early detection. In fact, several medical studies have estimated that between 25 to 50 percent of all patients beginning therapy require dialysis within a month of their first visit to the nephrologist.
In article titled, “Late referral to nephrologists of patients with chronic kidney disease”, researchers said that the reason for most late check ups is most likely based on, “denial, lack of understanding or fear among patients may contribute to delayed evaluation by a nephrologist."
Dr. Hong believes that Hispanics are mostly likely prone to delaying their check ups because of the aforementioned reasons.
“This occurs with many ethnicities as mentioned,” said Dr. Hong. “But [they] likely are important factors for the Hispanic population of the South Gate community.”
African-Americans are more than three times as likely to develop chronic kidney disease then whites. Part of the reason attributed for the prevalence of chronic kidney disease in the African-American community has been linked to a genetic factor that increases their probability. There has yet to be such a discovery in the hispanic community.
"For other groups there has not been a gene identified," said Dr. Hong. "That is not to say that they may not do so in the future."
Life with chronic kidney disease is difficult, and although dialysis helps patients with everything, it is not the same thing as having a healthy kidney.
Headaches, chest pains, loss of appetite and other serious symptoms can decrease in their entirety, but some can remain or even worsen through time, because of kidney related issues or other medical issues that patients might be suffering from.
However, the feeling of fatigue is one that many patients cannot seem escape through out their therapy.
“It is not the same,” said Gomez, when asked how to compare his life prior to the use of dialysis. “You feel tired.”
Oliva Garcia felt the same way. The swelling of her body may have stopped, but she now lacks the energy she once had.
“Before I was very active, I liked to cook and to do a lot of things,” said Garcia. “Now I feel very tired.”
Doctors admit that dialysis treatments are not the perfect substitute for a healthy kidney. On the other hand, they do make things better.
“With out the dialysis treatment a lot of patients would feel even worse,” said Dr. Hong. “But it is not as good as having a transplant or not having kidney disease at all.”
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