Hi, my name is Sarah, and I was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure aged 23. In this article I give suggestions about what a church can do to support people in their congregation who are similarly diagnosed. However, I will start with a short overview of the medical issues.
Kidney failure can happen to anyone at any age; indeed, some babies are born with kidney failure. It may be inherited, or the result of another health condition but you really don’t need to know the cause of a person's condition; just how you can support them.
Depending on when kidney failure is first diagnosed it may be possible to slow down further deterioration. However, when renal failure does occur there are three main forms of treatment:
- hemodialysis which may be at home or usually in a unit/hospital and most often three times weekly
- peritoneal dialysis which is undertaken at home and usually overnight
- transplantation whereby one kidney is transplanted, either from a deceased or living donor, closely tissue-typed.
For further details about any of these do go to the National kidney Federation website.
As with any long-term health condition the time of diagnosis can be a frightening experience and one where it is usual to look for the worst-case scenario. Does your church have someone to talk to who is trained in disability equality/etiquette and a good listener? When accompanied by prayer, such a resource can often be important in helping someone come to terms and feel more in control of the situation.
It would be wrong of me to lay down a prescriptive list of what a church can do to support someone receiving dialysis (either form). The best place to start is to ask the person! I realise things have changed since I was dialysing (1987-90) but if you don’t already, emphasise during worship that people can stand if they are able. You see, dialysis often does not restore full living but can leave you weak and a bit wobbly! During hymns I would cling to the pew in front with no spare breath to sing. A lift to church may also make all the difference to someone in renal failure but without a car. Two examples which would have helped me - but everyone’s experience is different so ask, don’t assume.
Most people on dialysis will have to follow a renal diet so if your church has a meal do you as a matter of course give a contact who people can speak with if they have dietary requirements? This may not be related to a medical condition but is great practice and encourages attendance. Please don’t go online and assume you know what they need.
A transplant is seen by many dialysis patients as the route to return to normality. Indeed, for some of us it can be – I was transplanted 31 years ago and returned to full time work within 9 weeks. For some, unfortunately, the graft never may work or last for only a few months. This is rarely the recipient’s fault and does not usually preclude a return to the waiting list.
SL March 2022