Renal patient forced to leave island

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A Benbecula father will not be spending Christmas with his family this year due to a lack of access to lifesaving dialysis on the island.

The situation, which has been exasperated by a reduction in inter-island flights, means it is virtually impossible for him to return home.

Iain Macmillan (37) has a severe form of kidney disease which means he needs to have haemodialysis in hospital three times a week and cannot go without it for more than two days.

The service is not available at the Uist and Barra Hospital and trips home are complicated and expensive as he must also include detours to Stornoway to receive dialysis at Western Isles Hospital.

He now lives on the mainland because living at home is not an option, particularly as further cuts to travel links mean there are only flights to Stornoway three days a week which do not coincide with the three Renal Unit days.

Iain, however, longs to return to his home island where his family, including his 16 year old son live.

“It is shockingly difficult for me to get home,” he said. “The dialysis unit in Stornoway only offers dialysis on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays but there are no flights to Stornoway from Benbecula on Mondays or Fridays, so I would be at the mercy of the ferries in order to get there. This isn’t always an option particularly in winter.”

He added: “The other option would have been to have dialysis in Inverness – but again the lack of flights mean that I wouldn’t be able to get home on a weekend after a dialysis session.

“For both Stornoway and Inverness, the flight times are such that I can’t get there and back in a day. Therefore attending a dialysis session ultimately means staying overnight somewhere, by which point I’m due for dialysis the next day.”

A recent family tragedy meant Iain was desperate to return home and despite the odds he made the journey to attend his sister’s funeral.

“I wouldn’t normally contemplate taking the risk of visiting home and being stranded without dialysis, but recently my sister Sandra passed away suddenly and I knew I wanted to get home,” he said.

“My family were very kind and considerate to hold off the funeral until I could make it home, I found the whole process of trying to get home very stressful and it came close to the point of me deciding that the funeral would have to go on without me, but as soon as I had got the news I just wanted to be with my family and my son.”

Iain did make it home for the funeral, thanks to the support of his girlfriend who organised the logistics of the trip.

He received dialysis on the mainland on the Monday morning before catching a flight while his girlfriend travelled by road and ferry so they would have the option of having the car and taking the ferry to Stornoway for dialysis a few days later.

On the Tuesday he flew to Stornoway for dialysis on the Wednesday and returned to Benbecula that afternoon.

The following day he attended his sister’s funeral and then had an early start on Friday to drive to Stornoway as there are no flights and had dialysis that afternoon.

It was too late to return to Benbecula that day so he stayed overnight before returning to Benbecula to spend a few more hours with his son and family before getting the ferry on Sunday back to the mainland in order to be ready for his dialysis on Monday morning.

“I often dream of going home and seeing the sea, the stars, my family and most importantly Andrew, my son,” said Iain.

“He has just turned 16 this month and I would have loved with all my heart to have been with him on that special day but the organisation and the cost would have just been too much.”

Iain is full of praise for the Renal Unit in Stornoway and the support he has received from the Western Isles Kidney Association and another charity called the Stephen Knox Christian Trust who helped with travel costs.

He feels that the addition of a dialysis machine at the Uist and Barra Hospital would make a huge difference to the lives of any patients there now or in the future.

He said: “This would mean people like me would be free to go home as often as we liked. Some people could move home and it would encourage renal holiday makers. Dialysis patients often look for somewhere new to go.”

The value of having this service on Benbecula was experienced by one patient ten years ago but has not been available since she passed away in 2003.

Margaret Macdonald from from Aird, Benbecula, had been a kidney patient since her early 30s, but because dialysis was unavailable on the island the family moved to Glasgow.

She received a transplant in 1978 and they returned to Benbecula. Unfortunately she became ill again later in life and due to the lack of dialysis access on the island, she and her husband spent many years living out of a suitcase travelling back and forth from Glasgow for treatment.

Her daughter Gretta Campbell says when she eventually was able to have dialysis on the island, this made an incredible difference to her quality of life.

She said: “We were fortunate that my brother in law worked on the Military Range and put forward a request to his employers. They trained up one of their nurses and equipped the room etc. 

“The final year of my mother’s life was spent getting her dialysis treatment in the MRS, West Camp, Balivanich, Benbecula, two miles for the family home.  

“The kidney machine was removed after my mothers passing and unfortunately the facility is no longer there for others to use. 

“I know of people who would love to return home on holiday but are unable to do so because this.”

Looking to the future, the health board are not making any moves to improve this service in Uist and Barra, but the Kidney Patients Association remains committed to making life easier for local patients

Iain is waiting for a kidney transplant and wishes to help raise awareness of the charities working with people like him and also of organ donation.

He said: “I long for a life when I am free from the constraints of dialysis but this will only happen if I get a transplant. You never know one day you too could be a renal patient.”

The Western Isles Kidney Patients Association offers assistance to local patients helping to cover travel expenses and equipment.

It was set up in April 2001 by kidney patients and their family and friends.

After a long campaign by the Association, a renal unit was opened in Western Isles Hospital in 2007, but there are still no facilities at Uist and Barra Hopsital for any renal patients.

Angus Macleod, Chair of the Association urged any patients aross the islands to get in touch with the charity for support.

Anyone wishing to contact the Association can contact Angus on 07879603068.

A spokesperson for NHS Western Isles said they were currently unable to provide some services to patients in Uist and Barra.

She said: “Unfortunately we are unable to offer haemodialysis to patients in the Southern Isles. Barra patients would usually go to Glasgow or do Peritoneal dialysis, 

“Uist patients would go to Stornoway or do Peritoneal dialysis.”