GREAT BARRINGTON -- Alan Arbuse took a leap of faith after being told his kidney no longer worked, telling his sister that his condition wouldn't prevent him coming to visit her in the Berkshires.
Travel as a dialysis patient? It's easier said than done.
Arbuse, who lives on Long Island, was told he had kidney failure in 2008 following complications from bladder and prostate cancer procedures. From that day forward, he would need dialysis three days a week to have his blood cleared of waste and toxins, a function his kidney could no longer perform.
"It's not going to prevent me from visiting," Arbuse recalled telling his sister, Anne Schneel, who lives in North Egremont. "We're going to have a glass of wine and sit down next to your pool."
And last Thursday, there he was -- relaxing with his sister -- with two tubes stuck in his arm as a dialyzer cleaned his blood at the nearby South Berkshire County Dialysis Center in Great Barrington.
Following his treatment, Arbuse would be taking full advantage of his vacation, his sister said.
"He's going to go home and have breakfast. Go antiquing," she said. "We're going out tomorrow for dinner."
For those dealing with kidney failure, vacations require more than packing bags and locking down the house. First and foremost, people like Arbuse must find a place to receive dialysis treatments. Without dialysis, fluid can build up in the lungs. In a worst case scenario, potassium can cause electrical symptoms that lead to cardiac arrest.
"[Those with kidney disease] realize that they will be more limited than before, but then they are pleasantly surprised," said Dr. David Henner, who works as the chief of nephrology at Berkshire Health Systems. "On Day One, I tell them, ‘Your life is not over. You can still travel and still enjoy travel.' "
About 0.1 percent, or 300,000 people, have Stage 5 kidney disease, which requires dialysis, according to Henner.
Arbuse considers himself fortunate that the South Berkshire County Dialysis Center is near his sister's home.
In Pittsfield, there's also the Berkshire Medical Center Renal Dialysis Unit.
Kathy Bianchi, clinical manager at the Great Barrington center, says the center's population swells during the summer with second-home owners, tourists and visitors. These individuals stop in for three to four hours before going on with their vacation.
In most cases, dialysis is covered by Medicare, regardless of age, Henner said. He said anyone traveling overseas, though, won't have their treatment paid for.
"They pay an extra $1,000 to get their dialysis, and they pay in cash," he said.
While their medical needs no longer keep them tethered to home during vacation season, people on dialysis still need to be careful.
"When they are not eating at home," and at a restaurant instead, "they have to be pretty cognizant about what their eating," Bianchi said.
Typically, doctors recommend a low-sodium diet and caution against potassium, which is found in green leafy vegetables and bananas.
After a morning spent in dialysis, Arbuse said he was ready for what comes next. And he was looking forward to an upcoming trip to Monticello, N.Y.
But for now, he was just enjoying his time in the Berkshires.
"I am here with family, and I have my grandson," he said. "That's what I live for."
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