After kidney failure left me in intensive care, this bit of kit is keeping me alive

Can you play Doom on it?’ was not the first question I expected to be asked when I sent a picture of me on dialysis for the first time to a group chat.

Although the Quanta Dialysis System I use to treat my kidney failure is a state-of-the-art piece of British machinery, I was fairly certain that you couldn’t run a beloved 90s video game through it. 

I’m just grateful that the machine is good at doing what it is supposed to do: keeping me alive. 

This bit of kit, which I’ve had for just under a year, has given me a new lease on life I didn’t think possible when my kidney first failed. 

People have to use machines like mine when their body is unable to naturally clean the blood of waste and excess fluid that collects every day. 

The gadget uses a procedure called hemodialysis, where it takes blood from my body, runs it through a filtration system that acts as an artificial kidney, and returns the cleaned blood to my body.

I use it for just a few hours, three times a week.

When dialysis first began to be used in the UK in the 1960s, machines were bulky, and almost exclusively in hospitals.

Until fairly recently, even home dialysis units could take up as much room as a fridge freezer, but this new iteration I use is about the size of a family sized microwave oven. 

I’ve gone from requiring 70 hours a week of dialysis treatment, to around 12, because hemodialysis is delivered using this much smaller machine and a less invasive method compared to the old form of dialysis I used, which involved a larger machine, and a catheter in my stomach. 

I keep the machine in my bedroom and it couldn’t be simpler (Picture: Richard Booth/Quanta Dialysis Technologies)

It’s given me so much more freedom.

I keep it in my bedroom and it couldn’t be more easy to use

My first brush with kidney failure was in 2011 when undiagnosed high blood pressure brought me to a standstill. 

I’d been having trouble sleeping and vomiting episodes, so I went to see my GP.

After seeing blood test results, which showed significant excess creatinine, a sign of kidney dysfunction, he then promptly shipped me off to the A&E department with a letter and instructions to pack an overnight bag. 

Upon arrival, further tests showed I had kidney failure and would need to stay in for a while.

That ‘while’ turned out to be a month.

At that point I had no idea what renal failure was or why your kidneys are so important, but I learned pretty quickly how crucial they are to your well-being, and how potentially life-threatening it can be to lose their function.

Because I was admitted as a ‘crash land’ patient, a term in renal medicine where someone presents with end-stage failure without warning or prior illness and needs to be given emergency dialysis quickly, my options were limited.

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I opted for a form of treatment called peritoneal dialysis, which involves having a tube medically inserted into your stomach, which then connects to a machine overnight, every night. 

I ended up in the hospital for about a month until I was well enough to return home and begin to receive dialysis there, using the same machine as I had been using in the ward – meaning I still had to be connected to it overnight. 

It was supervised by a nurse, who had to come round each morning and disconnect me from the machine, and as it was before the invention of the device I use now, I had to endure hours of treatment every night. 

While I was able to keep my job, the fact that I had to use it while I was asleep meant that there were occasionally complications in the morning, in my case mostly arising from moving in my sleep and disturbing my catheter or the flow of dialysis. 

This meant I was often late, and it also impacted my social life.

The overnight treatment, every night, as opposed to the blocks of a few hours on alternate days I use now, meant I had to leave parties and events early, and couldn’t travel. 

It mitigated the worst of the side-effects of kidney failure, and though I felt better than when I was rushed to A&E, I never felt back to normal. 

Fortunately, I was able to get a kidney transplant in 2013 and my health improved vastly, but any kind of organ transplant is likely only a temporary fix.

The expected lifespan of a transplanted kidney is estimated to be around 15-25 years depending on a number of factors, including whether it was donated from a living or deceased donor. 

In August 2020 my transplanted kidney started to fail and plans were put in place for next steps with my consultant. 

After a nasty brush with Covid left me in intensive care, we had to accelerate my treatment, and I knew exactly how I wanted to receive my dialysis – at home, and with as little fuss as humanly possible. 

It’s freed me up to do things like spend time with my cat (Picture: Richard Booth/Qanta Dialysis Technology)

The doctors from the renal ward connected me with the brilliant home dialysis team at the Royal London Hospital and they were able to accommodate me. 

While I was rushing into this new approach, I didn’t have any initial worries, knowing that I would be getting treated with a different form of dialysis.

Crucially, this was also one that didn’t have to be delivered overnight, didn’t need a nurse’s supervision, and would take a total of just 12 hours a week. 

The training regime is very thorough as you are taking responsibility for your own safety and care at home, which was a big step for me

I feel empowered by my home treatment, and the Quanta System means that kidney failure is just something I have, rather than something that defines me. 

Having the option to fit my dialysis around my schedule is extremely helpful, even if I now have to come up with more creative excuses to duck out of social events.

While there are some things I miss about not going to hospital regularly, like chatting to staff or fostering a sense of camaraderie with other patients, I wouldn’t change my Quanta System for the world. 

Because it was designed for self-administering by the patient, rather than medical use, the user-friendly interface and step-by-step troubleshooting helps me feel in control of my own treatment. 

My blood test results have improved, and I feel better in my day-to-day life. 

At the moment having access to this type of equipment is something of a postcode lottery, as individual healthcare trusts have to decide if they want to offer home haemodialysis as a treatment option. 

I want more people to be able to benefit from home treatment – and it could help the NHS on top of being a better experience for patients. 

For now, all I can do is talk about how truly life-changing this form of home dialysis has been for me.

Not only would I literally be dead in under a month without it, it’s afforded me more opportunities to enjoy activities that are important to me. 

Whether it’s spending more time with my cat, adapting recipes to suit my dietary restrictions in the kitchen, or even being able to work a full-time job, I’m incredibly grateful to own this bit of tech. 

The Quanta Dialysis System has, in short, given me the most valuable commodity of all – time.

The Tech I Can’t Live Without

Welcome to The Tech I Can’t Live Without,‘s new weekly series where readers share the bit of kit that has proved indispensable for them.

From gadgets to software, apps to websites,  you’ll read about all manner of innovations that people truly rely on.If you have a bit of tech you can’t live without, email to take part in the series

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