A new state-of-the-art titanium valve system for hemodialysis is providing a new and exciting option of blood access for dialysis patients at Buena Vista Regional Medical Center in Storm Lake.
The new LifeSite Hemodialysis Access System provides fully-implantable blood access for patients who require hemodialysis, a technique which helps patients who have chronic kidney failure filter out high levels of toxins present in their blood with an artificial kidney, called a dialyzer. The hemodialysis procedure replaces the process normally handled by the kidney, the organ which eliminates excess fluid and waste material from the blood.
Dialysis patients must undergo 9-12 hours of the procedure each week, a process which helps them maintain a high quality of life while they wait for a kidney transplant. Previously, many patients had to use catheters located on the outside of the body as a means of accessing blood vessels to cleanse their blood. However, catheters are vulnerable to infection, and patients cannot shower as the catheters cannot get wet.
The new LifeSite system, however, uses two valves located inside the body as access points for the blood cleaning process, greatly reducing the likelihood of infection. Sally Bonnesen, Dialysis Nurse Manager at BVRMC, said that benefit is just one of many advantages the new implant system can offer for dialysis patients.
"From what we've seen, the LifeSite has worked much better than catheters," Bonnesen said. "We've seen an increased blood flow in the three patients that have this now, and that's been one of the biggest positives to this.
"Since it is inside the skin it is also easier for people to move around with it," Bonnesen continued. "Also, if they do happen to get an infection we will have the ability to remove the infection and keep the LifeSite in the body. That wasn't possible with the external catheter."
"We've been very pleased with the LifeSite," Dr. Michel Lee, the necrologist for the dialysis unit, said. "It's a really amazing mechanism, and it's definitely an improvement over the catheter, because this is inside the body, which really helps. It's something that we think will be very beneficial for selected patients."
Lee said the development of LifeSite is significant because of the importance of having another option for dialysis, a process that allows those with kidney failure to stay alive.
"The kidney receives 25 percent of the blood coming from the heart, which is the same amount the brain receives, so the kidney is pretty important," Lee said. "To use an analogy, the kidney is like the oil filter in a car. If the filter stops working, then trouble happens to the car, and the same thing is true if the kidney stops working in a person. Dialysis acts as that artificial oil filter, and having a new advance like LifeSite to use to help us achieve blood access in dialysis is important."
After patients undergo a surgical procedure to implant the two valves underneath the skin in the upper chest area, the device is then connected to two hollow, flexible catheters that are then connected to large veins in the central venous system. The enclosed catheters stretch all the way to the right atrium in the heart, helping to clean all blood ready to make its way through the body.
Lois Balkema was one of the first area residents to receive a LifeSite device, as she had the valves implanted by Dr. Troy Ivey and Dr. Maurice Huffman on Sept. 6. Balkema, 98, became the oldest LifeSite patient in the United States after undergoing the procedure, and Lee said the surgery has been beneficial for her in the three months following the operation.
"It's worked out beautifully for her," Lee said. "Some might question why we want to put a LifeSite in a 98-year-old, but she's bright as a tack and she just wants to go about the business of seeing her family and being with friends here. Her circulatory system wouldn't support a fistula (an artery and vein sewn together to provide dialysis treatment), so the LifeSite was something we thought would work for her."
While LifeSite is a new option for dialysis medical personnel to consider using, Lee and Bonnesen said it is not for everyone and is not intended to be a permanent fix for those patients who do receive one. Instead, it is meant to be an important tool for medical personnel to use in the future to help give those on dialysis a higher quality of life until they are able to receive a more permanent access tool such as a fistula or graph or possibly receive a kidney transplant.
"It's something that we're excited about," Bonnesen said. "We're learning more and more about dialysis and how to better help patients who need dialysis, and this is something that will help us help others even better in the future."
More than 300,000 Americans currently receive long-term dialysis therapy, and about 80,000 live with a functioning kidney transplant.