On the road with kidney disease

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Helen and Roger’s motorhome heading off via Innisfail.

Helen and Roger’s motorhome heading off via Innisfail.

Kidney disease hasn’t been able to stop Cairns locals Helen and Roger Boodnikoff travelling around Australia in what could be the nation’s only private kidney dialysis bus.

Helen requires regular renal dialysis, which means connecting to a machine to filter her blood for 4 hours every second day.

Usually, Helen would have to do dialysis at home or visit a hospital or health facility’s dialysis unit to get the treatment 15-20 hours a week.

“After I was diagnosed with kidney disease, we never thought we’d be able to travel off the beaten track again,” Helen said.

“But a doctor gave us hope. He said we could travel - we would just have to work around things. When we heard that, suddenly the light came back into Roger’s face.”

On the road with kidney disease - Helen and Roger Boodnikoff with Dr Murty Mantha

Helen and Roger Boodnikoff with Cairns Hospital Director of Renal Services Dr Murty Mantha (centre) in their motorhome with dialysis. Dr Mantha and team have been a huge support to the couple.

It took two years for Roger to convert a 12m bus they owned, into a travelling motorhome with its own private dialysis unit for Helen.

Two months ago, they hit the road with dialysis machine in place, to travel around Australia “indefinitely.”

Currently in Charters Towers, Helen said the experience of travelling again was amazing.

“Every time we stop somewhere new and I do my dialysis, I take a photo out of our bus window, and I see something different,” Helen said.

“When I did dialysis at home, I always saw the same things out of the window.”

Roger said they would not have been able to realise their dream without the care of staff at Cairns Hospital.

“We get so much support from the doctors and nurses at Cairns Hospital,” he said.

“At one stage we found out the dialysis machines would be much bigger than we planned and wouldn’t fit in my van.

“This was a big setback - but we decided to keep going and had to convert a bigger bus so the new machine would fit in.”

Mobile dialysis is not a new thing with Kidney Health Australia’s Big Red Bus and Purple House’s Purple Truck allowing people to come to a bus for their dialysis.

“I’ve heard of a private caravan with dialysis machine in it, but so far I haven’t heard about anyone with their own person dialysis bus,” said Roger.

Cairns Hospital Renal Unit Clinical Nurse Consultant Keri-Lu Equinox said the Boodnikoff’s bus was the first – and hopefully not the last – the team had helped set up.

“Installing dialysis in the bus was similar to doing it in a home but there were space, power and water constraints to overcome,” she said.

“Roger used his background in mechanical systems to install two 500L water tanks, two carbon filter tanks, a reverse osmosis filter machine, and the huge dialysis machine – which is so heavy it had to be lifted into the bus with a crane!”

Queensland Health’s Biomedical Technical Support unit (BTS) inspected and reviewed the installed water treatment system and electrical circuit, to certify they met Australian standards.

The home dialysis team including Keri-Lu and physician Dr Murty Mantha have been supporting Helen and Roger for years and watching them realise their dream to travel.

“People can get dialysis at a dialysis unit or we can train them to self-dialysis at home,” Keri-Lu said.

“In Helen’s case, she was doing dialysis at home first and now in the bus which is her mobile home.”

Last year, the Cairns Hospital home dialysis team trained seven people across the Cairns region, Cape York and the Torres to carry out home dialysis.

“We currently have 30 clients doing home dialysis,” Keri-Lu said.

“We support four clients in the remote Aboriginal community of Kowanyama in western Cape York, four in Cooktown/Hopevale, one in Bamaga, one in Aurukun and the rest are in the Cairns and Hinterland region. And, of course, we support Helen who doing dialysis in her travelling home!”

On the road with kidney disease - crane lifting renal machine through the roof

The dialysis unit had to be craned into the bus via the roof.

See also Home kidney dialysis: giving people back their independence