AYER -- Less than a year ago, Bill Blocher felt nauseous, weak, and found it difficult to walk. He had problems with his health insurance and kept putting off when he would see the doctor.
When Blocher did get checked out, doctors said he needed to be admitted to the hospital immediately because his kidneys were failing. They were surprised he could still stand and worried that he would have a heart attack. Blocher began dialysis treatment to help remove toxins from his body. He temporarily lost the ability to walk.
"It was like everything hit (me) at once," said Blocher, who is 54.
Since coming home from the hospital, he has been using home dialysis every day.
Every night, Blocher connects a tube from his Baxter dialysis machine to one that goes into his belly. While he sleeps, it pumps a sugar-based solution into his abdominal cavity through a catheter. The solution, which absorbs waste from the blood like a kidney would, later drains out of the body. The process repeats several times.
"It is a bit of a nuisance," he said. "(But) you either do this or you end up in a hospital bed. I think the trade off is not bad."
About 15 liters of liquid cycle through his body each night, swelling his stomach. Blocher said it is like being pregnant with fluid.
Each morning he detaches the tube from the machine from the one leading into his belly.
On Sunday, Blocher lathered his hands with sanitizer and handed out face masks to his wife, Karen Rymer-Blocher; granddaughter, Keira Belford; and the reporters in the room. It took a few seconds for him to disconnect.
He has to make sure everything is clean because he has a high risk of infection. Getting sick could be deadly.
The tube into his belly is taped to his skin, where it sits throughout the day.
"I love (the dialysis) because it allows him to have a normal life," Rymer-Blocher said.
All the solution he needs for a month of dialysis treatment is delivered to the apartment. They stack boxes of the pre-packaged solution in a second bedroom. With an entire shipment, the stacks nearly reach the ceiling and extend several rows out.
Blocher's treatments and dialysis supplies are covered by Medicare.
As part of his routine, he keeps track of his blood pressure and weight. He also visits a dialysis clinic once or twice a month where he receives iron and vitamin B12 transfusions and a shot to help him produce more white blood cells.
The dialysis has come with challenges.
Blocher has gained weight because his body has absorbed sugar from his dialysis solution. His lower back aches and he feels sore. If the dialysis liquid is cold or at room temperature when it enters his body, Blocher gets stomach cramps.
Dialysis treatment has required him to modify his diet to eliminate salt, phosphorus, potassium, or red meat.
He can't eat bananas, milk products, or red pasta sauce -- one of his favorites.
Going out to restaurants can be difficult because it can be hard to know exactly what is in his food.
Blocher had always expected to face kidney issues, but did not know they would happen sooner.
Members of his family share a genetic disorder called polycystic kidney disease, which damages the organs. His father was previously on dialysis and had a kidney transplant.
Because of the disease, Blocher can not receive a kindney from most of them.
To receive a new kidney, he is on the transplant list in New England and the Southeast region.
More than 70 percent of kidney transplant candidates on both of the lists wait more than a year for a new organ, according to recent data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.
Rymer-Blocher said when her husband first placed on the lists, they were suggested to call all the airlines and let them know that they would need two seats on the next flight to Florida if a kidney becomes available.
In preparation for a potential transplant, they will travel there to meet with a transplant surgeon.
Blocher's dialysis machine comes with a hard case to bring on a plane. Typically, he has to ship his needed supply of dialysis solution to his destination. On his Florida trip, a dialysis clinic in the area will send the solution to where he will be staying.
About 4,200 candidates are on the waiting list for a kidney, according to recent data from OPTN. For the Southeast, about 14,000 candidates are on the list.
The body only needs one kidney to function. If people are interested in becoming a direct donor, they would need to go to their doctor and check if they are physically and mentally capable of handing a transplant.
Blocher and his wife plan to host a few donation awareness events during the summer. A representative from the Dialysis Clinic Inc. would be at the event to test peoples' blood and see if they are a match for Blocher. They hope to have events in Ayer and Acton, where he grew up.
He is optimistic about getting a kidney. Even if someone isn't a match for his B-positive blood type, that person could be a match for another transplant candidate and help him move up on the donor list.
To help the grandchildren feel comfortable with Blocher and his kidney disease, Rymer-Blocher said they have been honest and open with them.
Belford, who is six-and-a-half years old, knows that she may have kidney problems one day like her grandfather. She has been to the clinic with him and has a Disney face mask to wear when she watches Blocher plug in or unplug when she is at the apartment.
"The more normal we make it, the less they are afraid," Rymer-Blocher said.
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