By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
LIBERTY, Ill. -- Lana Schmidt really needs a kidney, but in the meantime she'll settle for a few extra hands.
Each night, a nursing student arrives at Schmidt's home and prepares her for her daily in-home hemodialysis treatment. During the three-hour process, the students practice skills they can apply throughout their nursing training. They've learned to prepare needles, spike saline bags and run the complicated machine that keeps Schmidt alive.
"Even being a second- or third-year nursing student, they've never used a syringe or a saline bag," Schmidt said. "Usually, after the first couple (of) times, they totally understand all the mechanics."
Schmidt, 56, has undergone dialysis treatments since she was diagnosed with acute kidney failure in 2002. In 2010, she began using a home hemodialysis machine.
More than 571,000 people living in the U.S. have end-stage renal disease, according to the National Kidney Foundation. The U.S. Renal Data System reported 91 percent of individuals receive dialysis treatment. The procedure cleans the blood and makes up for the functions the failed kidneys can't perform. These patients typically receive treatments about three times per week.
A much smaller population benefits from daily home hemodialysis. The state offers a home service program for individuals younger than 60, and Schmidt uses that program to train and pay four student nurses to prepare her for treatments.
When Melissa Kurfman, a junior at Blessing-Rieman College of Nursing, began working with Schmidt about a year ago, her hands-on experience had been limited to remedial tasks such as bathing. Schmidt taught her methods for sampling blood, how to peel back scabs, and how to overcome difficulties with blood clots. Kurfman said the work has encouraged her to troubleshoot and find solutions when the treatment doesn't go according to plan.
"It's really steps up your confidence and critical thinking (skills), which is one of the primary things a nurse needs," Kurfman said.
Autumn Jackson, also a junior at Blessing-Rieman, said she's been able to apply a variety of the skills she's learned from Schmidt into her coursework. She learned how to spike a saline bag before she'd been tested on it in school. She became familiar with the processes for preparing equipment and supplies, monitoring the machine and checking Schmidt's blood pressure and pulse.
Schmidt creates a checklist for the students to follow, and she walks them through the process. Within the first week or so, Schmidt said the student nurses can conduct the whole treatment without her help.
Schmidt can administer her treatments on her own, but the process is draining. She believes creating a network of student nurses capable of assisting with home hemodialysis may bring the treatment to individuals who depend on treatment centers.
"I have encouraged other kidney patients who are on home hemo to check into it and see if they qualify," Schmidt said. "When I started to get help, it really lifted an emotional burden off of me."