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Chilliwack dialysis patient questions lack of renal unit in growing city

Rob Irving has to drive to and from Abbotsford three times a week for exhausting dialysis treatments
Chilliwack residents Gail and Rob Irving are puzzled why there isn’t a renal unit in the city, forcing Rob and others who need dialysis to travel several times a week to Abbotsford. (Eric J. Welsh/Chilliwack Progress)

There are days when Rob Irving doesn’t want to make the drive. It’s 30 minutes from his Chilliwack home to Essendene Avenue in Abbotsford, and 30 minutes back.

And that’s if absolutely nothing goes wrong.

If Highway 1 is a mess, as it often is, he is out much longer. Rob calls the freeway a death trap, and sitting behind the wheel, tired and frustrated, he wishes he could be just about anywhere else. But he has no choice. Anyone who lives in Chilliwack and needs kidney dialysis has no choice. Abbotsford’s Kidney Care Centre is the closest option for in-person treatment.

“It’s better than dropping dead,” Rob said.

As physically and mentally exhausting as his three-times-a-week journeys can be, Rob considers himself luckier than some. While he can drive himself to dialysis, and drive himself home after several hours of treatment, others rely on a transfer service, which takes longer and isn’t free.

“I don’t think anyone’s stopped to consider the cost of cost of transport for all these people going back and forth,” Rob said. “On top of that, a good number of the Kidney Care Centre staff live in Chilliwack, so they’re running back and forth too.”

As it is, with gas prices hovering around $1.50 a litre, treatment in Abbotsford is far more expensive for Rob than it would be if a renal unit existed in Chilliwack.

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“Rob’s concern has always been the expense of it, but that’s immaterial when you consider the need for it,” said Rob’s wife, Gail, who has reached out to mayor Ken Popove and Chilliwack-Kent MLA Kelli Paddon pushing for a renal unit in Chilliwack. “There has to be 15-20 people going to Abbotsford from this area. That includes people from Chilliwack, Harrison, Agassiz, Hope.

“We are a community of close to 100,000 people, and that we don’t have a unit like this just blows me away.”

For those who simply can’t stomach going to Abby, there is an option for in-home dialysis. Rob and Gail tried it for a year. Gail took training and brought a machine home, but even though she is a retired nurse, she found it too much to handle.

The machine comes with manuals that are inches thick and when it starts beeping, there’s limited time to figure out what’s wrong and do something about it.

“It’s incredibly stressful,” Gail said. “Rob is subject to blood clots and there are lots of other things that can go wrong, and you’re there alone. I have access by phone to the clinic in Abbotsford, but if something goes really wrong, I can tell you it’s scary. He puts his life in my hands when I do this.”

“She was always scared she was going to kill me,” Rob added.

One response Gail has heard when she’s asked about the lack of a renal unit in Chilliwack is that there aren’t any Nephrologists (kidney specialists) here. They’re all in Abbotsford.

“When you get dialysis in a hospital, you see a Nephrologist once a day, but when you’re stable enough to get it in the community, you see one maybe once a week,” she said.

“Only if you ask,” Rob added.

When The Progress reached out to Paddon for a response she had this to say.

“Gail Irving is a passionate advocate for folks in our community and we are so lucky to have her. After my talk with Gail, I spoke to the Ministry of Health and Fraser Health about access to community dialysis services in Chilliwack. I know that access to healthcare is important, and I will continue to advocate for health services in our community.”

Rob is 79 years old, turning 80 in December, suffering from end-stage renal disease.

Time is running short for a renal unit in Chilliwack to be any help for him, but they are determined to keep pushing.

“We are in our golden years, which I have to say is questionable,” said Gail, 82, with a laugh. “Obviously a unit like this isn’t going to happen overnight and it may not be beneficial to him. But it would be for other people, and to me that’s more important than just ourselves. The need is there, no question about it and the question is why haven’t we got one?

“There just doesn’t seem to be any reason for it.”

Fraser Health was contacted for this story, but didn’t respond before it was published. Fraser Health’s input will be added when it is made available.


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Eric Welsh

About the Author: Eric Welsh

I joined the Chilliwack Progress in 2007, originally hired as a sports reporter.
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