Harvey Wells is spending this fall traveling in his motorhome with his grandsons to every road game of the Cleveland Browns football team, and he hopes to spend next summer visiting every major league baseball park in the country.
But that’s not what’s remarkable about Wells. It’s the fact that he is roaming the country while undergoing dialysis treatment six days a week.
He is making a trip that wouldn’t have been possible without recent advances in the treatment of patients with kidney disease. And though he still must spend a good part of nearly every day hooked up to a machine, he is fully experiencing the joy of RVing, and best of all, he said, is that he’s spending precious time with his two grandsons.
Wells, 57, was diagnosed with reduced kidney function at the age of 18, but didn’t experience serious health issues until many years later. By 1998, he was in need of a kidney transplant, and received a kidney from his wife. Unfortunately, the transplant failed six years later, forcing him to seek regular dialysis treatment.
Conventional treatment for patients like Wells who have end-stage renal disease is a regimen of visits to a dialysis center to be hooked up to a machine and a dialyzer that acts as an artificial kidney, removing toxins and water from the patient’s blood. Wells underwent these sessions for four and a half hours three days a week, but it wasn’t easy. As Wells put it: “It can be depressing to suddenly be tethered to a machine for something your body once did on its own.”
The treatments left Wells fatigued, forcing him to give up his work in the car rental business. And because he had to have regular appointments at a dialysis center, travel became difficult. Then, he heard about a new portable dialysis machine that would enable him to perform dialysis at home, using the machine six days a week for three hours or so.
He acquired the portable machine in 2007, and both he and his wife received training in its use. Initially, he was apprehensive about the treatment, which requires jabbing himself with a needle, but before long he was comfortable with it. In fact, he got so confident that he, his wife, and two grandsons took a two-week trip in an RV in 2007. Naturally, he had to take along his portable dialysis machine, which is about the size of a 13-inch television set.
That trip went so well that the next year Wells decided to spend the whole summer traveling with his grandsons. “It was a great two months,” he said. They covered 12,500 miles and 37 states in an RV, visiting places ranging from Times Square to Mount Rushmore. Along the way, Wells earned payment for some of his expenses by serving as a spokesperson for the makers of his portable dialysis machine, NxStage Medical, stopping at dialysis centers to talk to kidney patients about the home dialysis system.
Wells said treatment with the home machine reduces the buildup of toxins and fluids, so that he doesn’t experience the kind of fatigue he felt when he was going to a treatment center. The difference, he explained, is that he does the home treatment six days a week and went to the treatment center only three times a week. The more frequent treatment, he said, comes closer to mimicking normal kidney function since kidneys work all the time.
Wells and his grandsons, Jared, 12, and Chase, 11, are traveling this fall in a 34-foot Four Winds Magellan motorhome. Wells said the motorhome is an ideal place to take dialysis treatment because everything is conveniently close at hand.
Wells became a fan of the Cleveland Browns while living in Ohio in the 1980s, and so that’s why they are following the team on road trips that are taking them to Denver, Baltimore, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati and Kansas City. His wife, Peggy, can’t make the trip because of her job with American Airlines, but she is flying to meet them when she can. Their home is in Texas, at a town midway between Dallas and Fort Worth.
Wells’ grandsons, who live in Florida, are being homeschooled for the first time while they travel with him this fall. Adding to their education is the opportunity to see the country, and everything from presidential libraries to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.
It’s a trip that wouldn’t have been possible without a portable dialysis machine. Wells said that he meets a surprising number of RVers on the road who require kidney treatment and make appointments at dialysis centers at their destinations. But, he said, the kind of road trip he is on, constantly traveling and going to many destinations, wouldn’t work if he didn’t have a portable machine.
You can read about what Wells calls “Grandpa’s Road Trip 2009: the Football Tour” at the website of NxStage Medical at www.nxstage.com.
Wells said portable dialysis has given him a new, more positive outlook on his own health and that the RV trips are showing his grandsons that no matter what difficulties you face, there are ways to overcome obstacles. Wells is more than content as he travels the country in a motorhome with his grandsons. “I’m living the dream,” he said.
Write to Mike Ward, editor at RV Life magazine, 18717 76th Avenue West, Suite B, Lynnwood, WA 98037 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Find First Glance online at rvlife.com.