Dialysis machine that can be monitored remotely a 'life-saving friend' for Sagkeeng man

A visually impaired Manitoba man is one of the first in the country to perform lifesaving dialysis on himself, in the comfort of his own home -- yet under the watchful eye of his nursing team, more than one hundred kilometres away.

Winnipeg hospital among 1st in country to adopt remotely monitored dialysis that works while patients sleep

Jeremy Starr, who is visually impaired, feels his way through the new kidney dialysis program he can use at his Sagkeeng First Nation home. It can be monitored by nurses in Winnipeg, more than 100 kilometres away. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

A visually impaired Manitoba man is one of the first in the country to perform life-saving dialysis on himself, in the comfort of his own home — yet under the watchful eye of his nursing team, more than 100 kilometres away.

It's all thanks to a new dialysis program adopted by Winnipeg's Seven Oaks Hospital — the first in Manitoba, and one of just a handful in Canada, to do so.

Jeremy Starr calls it a game changer.

"It's a great relief, you know?" says Starr, from his home in Sagkeeng First Nation. "It means I don't have to go to the hospital. It means I can stay at home."

Jeremy Starr is grateful the new home dialysis program that allows him to do his dialysis at home in Sagkeeng. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Starr, 45, was diagnosed with diabetes when he was a teen, and was warned he may lose his vision as a result. Two years ago, that prediction came true. Days later, he was told his kidneys were failing.

"At first I was told I might go blind. And then suddenly, 'Well, you're dying,'" Starr recalls. "'That's why you're going blind.' It was very terrifying."

He tried undergoing traditional home dialysis, but as his vision faded away the process grew darker.

Five times a day, he would struggle to assemble catheters, tubes and IV bags, all while trying to input information on a small keypad, unable to see anything he was doing. Trips to Winnipeg for hospital care were common.

"It was a major drain on my time," Starr said. "I didn't know if something would go wrong."

Then came a dialysis program called Amia — "from French for 'ami,' as in 'my friend.' It's my life-saving friend," Starr said.

Convenience, connectivity

Approved by Health Canada in 2016, Amia is user-friendly, with audio prompts, visual animations and a wide, flatscreen monitor.

It's also convenient — patients set it up in the evening, and the dialysis is done while they sleep.

But its key feature is its connectivity. Each morning, health-care providers log into the system and review their patients' dialysis report from the night before.

That means when Starr wakes in the morning at his home in Sagkeeng, more than 100 kilometres away at Seven Oaks Hospital, peritoneal nurse Karen Eyolfson is studying his chart.

"When I first saw this program, I immediately thought of Jeremy," says Eyolfson. "This is perfect for him. He wants his independence, he wants to stay at home. And we're able to monitor him … so both worlds would be happy."

Seven Oaks Hospital peritoneal nurse Karen Eyolfson studies Jeremy Starr's dialysis report from the night before. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Right now, Eyolfson says, there are 1,600 Manitobans on dialysis. So far, just 13 are accessing the Amia program.

"I'm No. 7," Starr says, chuckling.

Eyolfson would like to change that.

"To get something that is user-friendly for patients that want to stay in their communities up north and be home, it's amazing what they come up with to benefit our patients," says Eyolfson. "I hope more people hear about this."

Starr concurs. Two years ago, he was surrounded by the darkness of despair, making frequent trips to the hospital and attached to a dialysis machine.

Today, he says, he has a life to live.

"I've lived here all my life," Starr said at his home in Sagkeeng, standing in the hot sun, listening to birds singing.

"The breeze is nice, you can hear all the birds. This is my home."

A visually impaired Manitoba man is one of the first in the country to perform life-saving dialysis on himself, in the comfort of his own home — yet under the watchful eye of his nursing team, more than 100 kilometres away. 3:43