Five dialysis patients on Vieques, Puerto Rico, have died while waiting for a clinic to reopen after Hurricane Maria. Here are excerpts of the article “In Puerto Rico, Patients Are Still Waiting for a Dialysis Clinic That May Never Come,” by Carolina Moreno (Huffington Post).
As the sun began to set on this small isolated island off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast, Sandra Medina de Jesús lay quietly on a hospital stretcher in her house. The 42-year-old mother, bedridden because of an ulcer in her tailbone, had just returned from one of the three 11-hour journeys she makes weekly to receive dialysis on the main island. “Today was one of my low days,” she told HuffPost between labored breaths. “I was feeling very unmotivated, very down. I didn’t want to go but I knew that I had to go.”
Shortly after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in September 2017, Medina de Jesús began to develop complications from the diabetes she’d lived with for much of her life. Ultimately, she lost the bottom half of her left leg and began to suffer from chronic kidney failure. [. . .]
Dialysis, a treatment for kidney failure, removes toxic substances and waste produced by the metabolic system from patients’ bodies. The hemodialysis machine that filters patients’ blood and returns it to them requires a consistent power supply, a water treatment plant, several gallons of potable water and trained personnel, among other things. Without dialysis treatments, patients like Medina de Jesús would die.
“If a patient skips a treatment, these substances will build up and cause harm,” Dr. José Ayala, a nephrologist in Puerto Rico, told HuffPost.
For the 10 dialysis patients in Vieques, including Medina de Jesús, receiving treatment on their home island became impossible after Maria. The dialysis center at the nearby Susana Centeno Hospital, known as the Diagnostic and Treatment Center, closed after parts of the hospital building suffered damage in the storm.
Consequently, patients on Vieques, many of them fragile, have to travel more than 25 miles by land and air to the Fresenius Kidney Care Center in Humacao, Puerto Rico for treatment.
In the past year, Puerto Rico’s Department of Health has repeatedly promised Vieques patients a temporary solution in the form of a mobile dialysis clinic ― but it has yet to materialize. Meanwhile, a permanent solution is nowhere in sight as politicians and government agencies pawn off responsibility for rehabilitating or replacing Vieques’ hospital.
Five patients have died during this monthslong wait for local dialysis treatment, according to the nonprofit Renal Council of Puerto Rico. Though their deaths were not directly related to kidney failure, advocates say the grueling journey to get life-saving dialysis treatment deteriorates patients’ health and complicates their other chronic conditions, like hypertension, diabetes and cancer. [. . .]