Dialysis Access Experts at Ingalls Create Lifeline for Alsip Man

Unchecked high blood pressure can have dire consequences. Thirty-nine-year-old Christopher Heard knows that firsthand.

By the time he discovered he had dangerously high blood pressure, his kidneys were already failing him. Unfortunately, undiagnosed high blood pressure can wreak havoc on the body without any signs or symptoms.

"I had high blood pressure and didn't even know it," Christopher recalls. "By the time I found out, it had already done a job on my kidneys."

Three-times-a-week dialysis was the only way to replace the function of his failed organs.

While lifesaving for individuals with kidney failure, longterm dialysis – which purifies the blood through the use of a hemodialysis machine – is not without its own complications. The ongoing need to access veins can cause serious problems, including blockages, blood clots and life-threatening infections.

When Christopher began to have problems with his dialysis access point, he was referred to the Dialysis Access and Fistula Maintenance program at Ingalls – run by highly trained, board-certified interventional radiologists.

While it is the surgeons at Ingalls who are experts at creating arterio-venous fistulae and grafts, it is the interventional radiologists who are skilled at using minimally invasive techniques to keep them open and functioning well. When fistulae and grafts are no longer an option for dialysis patients, interventional radiologists can be quite creative in finding new sites to place dialysis catheters.

"As interventional radiologists, we are uniquely skilled at working with the vascular system," explains Perry Gilbert, M.D., a member of the Ingalls Medical Staff and medical director of the program. "Regardless of how challenging an individual's needs may be, we can successfully preserve vascular access for dialysis patients. Access truly is their lifeline."

As a long-term dialysis patient, Christopher has required the creation of several new access points over the years when existing ones failed him due to infection or blockage. And the experts at Ingalls have always come through for him.

"The doctors at Ingalls are always discovering new ways to create access for me," he said. "They've been amazing."

Christopher, who is on the waiting list for a new kidney, hopes to get good news soon. In the meantime, the energetic Alsip resident who is no longer able to work stays active by coaching a men's softball team.

"I had to retire from playing when I got sick, but I enjoy coaching," he added.

His advice to those with a history of high blood pressure: "Get it checked out and take your medication. All I would have had to do was go to the doctor and been told I had high blood pressure. It could have been kept under control (with medication). Don't wait."

If you or a family member needs vascular access for dialysis, call the Dialysis Access and Fistula Maintenance program at Ingalls at 708.915.5200.

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