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Dialysis Dozen

The new location of the Ray T. Yasui Dialysis Center offers an increase in capacity to 12 chairs, as well as new technology for patients

January 18, 2006

For more than eight months starting last spring, Carrie Weathers and her husband, Mike, spent three days a week in a monotonous but vital routine. Rain or shine, Carrie helped Mike into their car and drove an hour west through the Gorge to Legacy Mt. Hood Medical Center in Gresham. There, Mike, 60, spent 4½ hours on kidney dialysis. Carrie sometimes passed the hours there, or left to go shopping or find some other distraction for half the day.

At the end of dialysis, with Mike exhausted and feeling like a “wet dishrag,” Carrie would load him back in the car and drive another hour home.

“It sometimes takes a half-hour before and a half-hour after dialysis to hook and unhook from the machine,” Carrie said. Combined with the drive to and from the dialysis center, the Weathers’ whole day was consumed by the ordeal. Three days a week. Every week.

Photo by Esther K. Smith

Barbara Mann, above, receives dialysis in the new center while nurse Mary Richter checks readings from the machine. Below, Maija Yasui, daughter-in-law of Ray “Chop” Yasui, speaks at Sunday’s Dialysis Center dedication, along with hospital administrator James Arp.

Photo by Janet Cook

Mike’s condition hasn’t changed, but the new Ray T. Yasui Dialysis Center at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital means that he can now do dialysis here in Hood River.

“We are so thankful for this unit,” Carrie said. Mike had been on a waiting list along with seven other local patients to get in to the Yasui Dialysis Center at PHRMH. All had been making the three-times-a-week drive to dialyze in Portland. The former center, located in the north wing of the hospital, had eight chairs. With two shifts per day, it had a maximum capacity of 16 patients per day.

The new center, located in the hospital’s newly-constructed Health Services Building at 1151 May St., has 12 chairs, increasing the capacity to 24 patients per day with the current schedule of two daily shifts. Kevin Chase, nurse manager at the dialysis center, has staff ready for three shifts per day —increasing capacity to 36 patients — as soon as demand requires it.

“If I got eight more patients tomorrow, I could start another shift next week,” Chase said. Adding another shift eventually is a probability, Chase added, with the continuing nationwide rise in renal disease —half of it related to the epidemic of diabetes.

Kidney dialysis is needed when a patient’s kidneys fail. A dialysis machine takes the place of normally functioning kidneys, removing wastes and extra fluid from the body, and helping to maintain safe levels of necessary chemicals in the blood. Dialysis literally “cleans” the blood just as normally functioning kidneys do.

Because of the vital function dialysis performs, patients must undergo the procedure three days a week. Missing a dialysis session is not an option. During the winter of 1995-96, Gorge area dialysis patients had to be airlifted to Portland for dialysis when bad weather closed the roads.

The pure necessity of dialysis for those who need it was the seed that grew into the original Ray T. Yasui Dialysis Center, which opened in 1998. The late Ray “Chop” Yasui, a Hood River Valley native, suffered from kidney failure and began dialysis in 1988. At the time, the closest dialysis center was at Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland. He was told that most dialysis patients simply moved from wherever they lived to be close to the center.

Chop was outraged at the idea of leaving his beloved Hood River Valley. He had been forced to leave along with all other Japanese residents of the valley during World War II, and spent the war interned at Tule Lake, Calif.

“Chop said, ‘Hell, I’m not going to leave Hood River,’” recalled his daughter-in-law, Maija Yasui, in a 1996 Hood River News article. “‘This is my home! I was forced to leave it once and I’m not about to leave it again.’”

Maija drove him to and from dialysis for a time before becoming trained to administer dialysis with a home machine. Maija and Chop together performed the thrice-weekly procedure until his death in April 1989.

During his months on dialysis, and while also battling cancer, Chop became impassioned with the idea of getting a dialysis center built in Hood River. He researched the number of patients around the Gorge who could use such a center, and provided data that proved such a center was needed and could be cost-effective.

After Chop’s death, Maija and the Yasui family spearheaded a fundraising campaign and in 1997, ground was broken for the Ray T. Yasui Dialysis Center at then-Hood River Memorial Hospital. The center opened in the spring of 1998, 10 years after Chop’s death.

At an open house celebrating the new center on Sunday, Maija Yasui spoke about Chop’s legacy.

“When we originally looked at the numbers of patients we thought a center could serve, we came up with a figure and doubled it,” she said. “We thought we were being very generous and that we’d never fill all that capacity.” Maija said she and her family have been surprised at the need and “pleased with the hospital’s willingness to keep it going.”

“It’s a wonderful gift of life,” she said.

Carrie Weathers knows that as well as anyone.

“Dialysis is a very stressful thing on patients,” she said. “No one wants to have this done. But if you can come in and they can ease your worries and make you feel at home, that’s a comfort.” And now, for their 4- to 5- hour ordeal three days a week, the Weathers truly are home.

Ray T. Yasui

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