Steffanie Rivers

The number of dialysis treatment facilities in low to middle income neighborhoods soon could surpass the number of liquor stores in the same areas.

Just the other day I passed two dialysis centers within a half mile of each other on the same street, and it got me to thinking; Americans who fail to take care of their health in their youth are forced to spend more disposable income on treating chronic illnesses later in life.

With more than 1,500 outpatient centers in the United States, DaVita, Inc. is the leading dialysis treatment company, and has experienced much growth at the expense of millions of Americans suffering from kidney disorders.

The company has an estimated 31,000 employees and generates more than $5.6 billion dollars in income every year.

I’m not blaming owners of the company for their foresight, but it proves that companies are getting rich off the poor health of some Americans.

People who need dialysis treatment suffer from some degree of kidney failure. A dialysis machine removes the waste body fluids and other toxins the way kidneys should, but don’t for various reasons.

High blood pressure is one of the few early symptoms of kidney disease, and diabetes is another. The heart of a person with high blood pressure has to work harder to pump blood to their organs. It’s caused when a person eats food with a higher content of salt and fat.

African American, Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native adults are twice as likely as white adults to have diabetes, which is the leading cause of chronic kidney disease. Children who suffer from chronic kidney disease (CKD), like the late Gary Coleman, are prone to develop severe growth failure.

One lapse in body function leads to other more severe health problems. That’s why simple things such as a diet full of fruits and vegetables with exercise are important. Most people in need of dialysis must get the treatment at least twice a week. So their lifestyles must revolve around their treatment.

A kidney transplant is another alternative. Although the cost of most organ transplants is expensive, the cost of a kidney transplant has dropped so significantly that researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine say it’s cheaper to have a transplant than to stay on dialysis for more than two and a half years. And that includes the sickest patients. And transplants add an average of ten years to a patient’s life.

In the United States 88,000 people are waiting on the kidney organ donor list, but less than 17,000 kidney transplants are performed every year. It costs about $80,000 a year for dialysis compared to $50,000 for a transplant operation with the help of insurance. Some experts say thousands of dialysis patients start treatment without being told about life prolonging transplants or being placed on the transplant list. And according to a recent investigation some patients spend as many as five years on dialysis before being placed on the transplant list.

Patients with chronic illnesses owe it to themselves to know their treatment options. It’s important to be an active and educated participant to ensure the best use of your money and best care for your condition.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Send questions, comments or requests for speaking engagements to Steffanie at [email protected]. And see the video version of her journal at www.youtube.com/steffanierivers.