Kidney disease an eye opener for Alberni man

Alberni resident Dave Laughlin was active and worked hard all of his life, so it was an adjustment when he was told he had to undergo kidney dialysis.

Dave Laughlin awaits a home peritoneal dialysis machine as he struggles with kidney disease. A member of the Coulson Aircrane helicopter ground crew

Dave Laughlin is not prone to idleness.

So having to leave work because his kidneys are no longer functioning properly has been a difficult transition for Laughlin, a member of the Coulson Aircrane ground crew in Port Alberni.

Laughlin first visited a kidney specialist several years ago on the advice of a doctor. “I was really busy at the time and I just had no idea what he was talking about,” says Laughlin.

“I didn’t know what kidneys did. He said mine weren’t working as they should and down the road we were going to have to do something about it.”

That time has come.

Laughlin couldn’t figure out why he was so tired after a day’s work. His doctor told him his kidneys have only been working at 24 per cent of their capacity “for quite some time now.” He has been off work for more than a year, also for heart valve replacement surgery, and he will soon begin home dialysis.

Kidneys are bean-shaped organs about the size of a fist and are located mid-back, just below the ribcage and on either side of the spine. The kidneys keep a person’s blood clean and chemically balanced. Two healthy kidneys can process about 200 quarts of blood per day.

When kidneys fail, they no longer clean the blood and waste products and fluid can collect in the body. A process called dialysis can clean the blood artificially for a person.

Laughlin will take peritoneal dialysis (not hemodialysis); he will have a catheter surgically implanted into his abdomen which will then hook up to a bag much like an intravenous drip bag.

He will have to go through this process four times a day, meaning his days of travelling with the Martin Mars waterbomber crews are likely over.

However, he is hoping to regain some of his active lifestyle: he gardens, and he and his wife, Nancy Quist, love riding their Yamaha Viragos on motorcycle trips.

“They told me this is going to make me feel a lot better. It’s a small price to pay. It’s pretty miraculous, if you think about it.”

The dialysis machine is quite portable, he said. “I’ve seen pictures of somebody at the top of Ayers Rock (in Australia)…so it didn’t slow him down.”

Laughlin said talking about what is happening to him has been cathartic; he has a supportive community of friends who are getting him through his disease.

“I don’t know what people who don’t have that would do,” he said. “I can imagine it would be frustrating and lonely for them.”

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