By Hayley Gastmeier
At 26, Lia Dahlberg has the heart of a 70-year-old.
And if the Masterton woman misses her weekly dialysis treatments she will die.
Wairarapa Hospital is not resourced to provide it, so she must travel to Wellington three days out of seven.
There is another option though – home-based dialysis.
But due to shortage of rental houses in Masterton, Ms Dahlberg does not have a permanent address so therefore cannot treat herself at home.
She says her life was hard enough without the regular life-saving commute to remedy her chronic renal failure.
Her kidney problems are due to a bout of bacterial meningitis with septicaemia when she was a teenager.
Because of the disease which almost killed her, Ms Dahlberg now has serious heart problems, takes 18 pills a day, and cannot work because of her unreliable health.
“I have a 70-year-old’s heart at the moment,” Ms Dahlberg said, recalling what the doctor told her.
According to Wairarapa DHB, Ms Dahlberg is one of about four to seven Wairarapa people who, at any one time, require regular travel for dialysis.
The dialysis machine removes waste and excess water from the blood, which most people expel through their urine.
Ms Dahlberg and her partner, Jaime Murray, 24, drive to Kenepuru Community Hospital in Porirua three times a week for the five-hour dialysis sessions.
“It’s two hours each way and that alone is draining,” Ms Dahlberg said.
The treatment itself requires her to be “hooked up to a high pressure hose” which is injected into a vein in her arm with “needles the size of pens”.
Ms Murray said the dialysis took a lot out of her partner, who sometimes became ill and vomited during the “unpleasant” process which often consisted of “a lot of blood”.
The young couple plan to marry later this year and are working hard to improve Ms Dahlberg’s health so she can be put back on the list for a kidney transplant from deceased donors.
When Ms Dahlberg contracted meningitis at aged 17, she spent nine days in Wellington Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, and then another two weeks in a ward.
“I probably spent a good year after that recovering, but I was never the same person I was before I got sick,” she said.
“Physically I wasn’t as strong anymore and mentally I have had a lot to deal with.”
Her weakened immune system means she is vulnerable to illness and cannot live the typical lifestyle of a person in their 20s.
One year after the meningitis, Ms Dahlberg was donated a kidney that she had for seven years but it was later removed after her body rejected it.
For now she is dependent on the dialysis machine – or she would “basically be on her death bed”.
“It’s made me who I am today and it’s keeping me alive,” she said.
“I do get down about it sometimes but having positive people around me and knowing I’m not the only one who has to go through it helps me get through.”
A spokesperson for Wairarapa DHB said it was always a shame when people could not access local treatment.
“We haven’t got the expertise locally to be able to provide everything for everybody so we are very lucky we can rely on our neighbours [Capital & Coast DHB and Hutt Valley DHB] to provide those services for us.”