For Houston dialysis patients, getting treatment during the disaster means life or death

MILES O'BRIEN: Harvey has strained the health care system in Houston as well.

Aside from attending to the injured, there are also lifesaving treatments need by patients with chronic diseases.

One of those is dialysis.

Tomeka Weatherspoon from Houston Public Media visited the DaVita Medical Center Dialysis facility and filled me in a little while ago.

Tomeka, thank you for being with us.

First off, just give us an idea of how many people we're talking about here.

TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON, Houston Public Media: Well, when we arrived, there were upwards of at least 100 people in the clinic.

When I was talking to some of the volunteers and the staff there, they were saying they had seen hundreds, hundreds who had come in during the storm. They were only closed for one day, and that's just because Sunday was horrific for anybody trying to travel.

But other than that, they have been open and they have been seeing patients and getting quite a bit of overflow.

MILES O'BRIEN: Try to give us an idea of how serious this problem is, Tomeka.

If someone misses a dialysis appointment, that's a big deal, isn't it?

TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: It's a huge deal.

Honestly, if you miss an appointment, these treatments are regularly and scheduled for a reason. It's deadly. It's potentially deadly, potentially fatal if you don't receive these treatments.

Dialysis itself is to clean out the blood. So, certain types of liver and kidney diseases, they're unable to do that. So it's really critical that they're able to get these treatments.

I talked to a doctor, Dr. Olivero, at the clinic. And he was just telling me how his staff is working nonstop pretty much to administer these treatments to all of these people.

DR. JUAN OLIVERO, Medical Director, Medical Center Dialysis: What is an inconvenience for many people, having these types of storms, it can be a matter of life and death to these dialysis patients.

MILES O'BRIEN: Tomeka, I know you have had chance to talk to some patients. How are they coping?

TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: It was really difficult, actually, to be in the clinic.

There were a lot of people waiting for this lifesaving treatment. And just the distance people had to come to get there, it's really — it's really, really tough to kind of witness that.

But the patients I was able to speak with were really optimistic and really grateful to have a clinic that was actually open when their local clinic had been closed due to all of the flooding and just difficulty with traveling.

I talked to a patient while she was receiving treatment. Her name was Debrah Payne, and she was just really happy to still be alive.

DEBRAH PAYNE, Dialysis Patient: I was afraid. I just — I didn't know what I was going to do.

And I'm sure all the other people who couldn't make it who know that they have to do this to survive were concerned about whether they were going to make it here or not.

MILES O'BRIEN: This has to be a huge strain on the hospital staffs. Give us sense of how they're coping.

TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: Well, they're being really optimistic, much like some of the people, the patients that I spoke with.

They were really passionate, and really, really cared about helping everyone that was there. But they were still working incredibly long hours. And, honestly, you can see them a little bit tired. You can kind of see it in their eyes.

But they really cared about what they were doing. They were understaffed, and, you know, had not as much resources as they probably need. But they were just really, really passionate about helping everyone that was there.

MILES O'BRIEN: Tomeka Weatherspoon with Houston Public Media, thank you.

TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: Thank you.

MILES O'BRIEN: A reminder that, if you're looking to give to Harvey relief efforts, you can donate to a number of groups working on the ground.

Organizations, including the Red Cross, are accepting donations online or by phone.

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