“There are not a lot of programs that support their needs,” she says. The Tennessee Kidney Foundation, a United Way partner agency, “really fills a gap in service in ways that no one else is.”
When someone is in kidney failure, they have two options: dialysis or a transplant.
“The vast majority of people go into dialysis because transplant is just not a viable option for everyone. There are not enough organs, kidneys especially, to go around for everyone who might need one.”
On any given day in Middle Tennessee, 5,000 people are on dialysis. And if someone is receiving dialysis in an in-clinic setting—which most people are—they have to go three times a week.
“It’s very burdensome for someone to be on dialysis—both physically and timely—because that’s 15 to 20 hours a week that people are spending in a dialysis chair just receiving the treatment they need to stay alive. When you add the time it takes to get there and being away from work, it really becomes a burden that’s insurmountable for some people.”
The Tennessee Kidney Foundation underwrites the cost of that transportation whether that’s through providing public transportation or paying for gas for a loved one to drive them.”
“We just simply provide a way for people to get the treatment they need to stay alive and have that be one less thing they have to worry about.”
Heather says they constantly hear from patients about how valuable transportation is o them.
“They’ll tell us, ‘Because you were able to pay for my bus tickets this month, I didn’t have to make a choice between whether I would buy groceries, pay my utility bill or go to my treatments. I was able just to go take care of my health and have the finances to take care of other essential needs.’ ”
And worry from the pandemic exacerbates a dialysis patient’s worry even more. A dialysis patient’s mortality rate from COVID-19 is eight times higher than the general population’s. Thanks to CARES Act funding, TKF provides nutritional support so that patients struggling with food insecurity don’t have to expose themselves to the virus by standing in line at a food pantry or grocery store. Every week, TFK ships kidney-friendly meals to patients’ doorsteps.
“It’s really touching to hear what a relief something simple like having nutritious meals delivered to their homes could be during a time like that—just to relieve that burden and take the worry off their plate of how they were going to access food.”