Michiana man receives kidney dialysis from the comfort of home

BERRIEN COUNTY, Ind. -- Did you know your kidneys filter 200 liters of blood a day? That's the equivalent of 100 of those giant plastic pop bottles we buy at the store.

The kidneys help regulate blood pressure and direct the production of red blood cells.

But 1 in 3 Americans are at risk for kidney disease caused by diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history.

March is National Kidney Month and today is World Kidney Day. A day to raise awareness that if caught early, kidney disease can be managed and lives can be saved.

Meet a Michiana man who had no idea he had diabetes or that his kidneys were failing and now he's in need of a kidney transplant.

Jesse Harner's wife, Susan who was the first spouse trained in Berrien County to help deliver her husband’s kidney dialysis at home.

He has what is known as diabetic kidney failure.

Diagnosed about five years ago, doctors now suspect Jesse had diabetes 12 to 13 years before he was diagnosed. He actually found out something was wrong when he started having vision problems.

“I thought I just needed glasses and the eye doctor looked at me and immediately and said I need to get in and see a nephrologist,” he said.

They found out he was down to 35 percent kidney function.

Five years later Jesse's kidney function was down to 13 which meant he needed dialysis to stay alive.

At first he went to Fresenius Medical Care in St. Joe, Michigan for dialysis. But then his doctor, nephrologist Katherine Kwon got a program up and running which would allow Jesse to become the first person in Berrien County to do conventional dialysis at home.

Jesse jokingly calls his wife “Dr. Sue by day and Security Sue by night.” She works security at the Blue Chip Casino, but went through six weeks of intensive training to learn how to deliver Jesse's dialysis, three times a week for four hours at a time.

Fresenius guided them as they turned one of their grown daughter’s bedrooms into his home dialysis room.

Once Jesse's temperature is taken, it's time to get started. He takes a seat in his recliner where he will stay for the next four hours.

Jesse had a fistula surgically created. Doctors hooked an artery to a vein so that when Susan puts the needles in for dialysis, it works somewhat like a pierced earring. Meaning they use the same two entryways each time.

“He's now hooked up and the blood is going to start going through the machine,” Susan says.

Tracy Harshman, who trained Susan, explains how the system works and she says not doing dialysis is not an option.

“It's basically a pump with two needles that pulls out blood using the pump and it goes through the artificial kidney,” Tracy explains. “It cleanses the blood and then it returns the blood into the other kidney, over and over for four hours.”

“When you start dialysis, you know a lot of people laugh at me, but you're already dead, you've already passed, this is life support,” Jesse says.

He is on a waiting list for a kidney transplant at the University of Michigan but in the meantime is happy he can do kidney dialysis in the comfort of his home and that his wife is such a trooper.

And since she works full time, Susan says home dialysis makes life a lot easier.

“Much easier at home, so much more convenient, you don't have to work around someone else's schedule,” Susan says.

And for Jesse the machine pumping blood out and back into his body has given him his quality of life back.

He and Susan will continue together as they wait for the call that could end this routine. A call that a kidney donor has been found.

His nurse, Tracy says home dialysis will probably become much more common in the future.

You can learn more about World Kidney Day by clicking < href="http://www.worldkidneyday.org/" traget="_blank">here.

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