Taking the Cruise Plunge

Three days a week dialysis and a healthy fear of the open seas kept Shakur Bolden from taking that dream vacation. He had seen the brochures in his dialysis unit and on the tables in his doctor’s office. “Exciting vacation opportunities…”, “From Barcelona to Bermuda, there’s a cruise that’s going your way.” And, “Dialysis patients needn’t go without a vacation.” Yes, those brochures made taking a vacation on the high seas sound very exciting. But Shakur knew better. When he was younger, he had gone deep sea fishing a few times and each time his stomach churned. He wasn’t about to put himself through that again, on top of getting his dialysis treatment!

Doctors diagnosed Shakur with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) in 2006. The cause of his kidney disease was not immediately known. During the operation to put his fistula in, doctors discovered Shakur had lupus. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect different parts of the body, including the skin, heart, lungs and kidneys. Normally the body’s immune system makes proteins called antibodies, to protect the body against viruses, bacteria and other foreign materials. These foreign materials are called antigens.

In an autoimmune disorder like lupus, the immune system cannot tell the difference between foreign substances and its own cells and tissues. The immune system then makes antibodies directed against itself. These antibodies – called “auto-antibodies” (auto means ‘self’) – cause inflammation, pain and damage in various parts of the body. The lupus diagnosis was a surprise for Shakur.

Fast forward to 2007. Shakur learned about AAKP and its Annual Convention as he was going through his transplant evaluation. Dr. Thomas Peters, a transplant surgeon and AAKP Board member, gave Shakur an AAKP brochure. After signing up to be an AAKP member, Shakur began receiving Kidney Beginnings: The Magazine. One of the articles in the publications featured a story about the AAKP National Convention. After reading the article, Shakur knew he had to attend.

The AAKP Convention would allow him to speak with kidney healthcare professionals, but most importantly, it would allow him and his wife to interact with other patients.
“There was a wealth of information available, not only from physicians and patients, but also the vendors who attended,” said Shakur. “I didn’t realize the vast amount of products that are available to help people cope with the effects of kidney disease.”
As Shakur and his wife walked the Exhibit Hall, they stopped and talked to representatives from Dialysis at Sea® Cruises. Dialysis at Sea provides dialysis services aboard cruise ships, allowing dialysis patients and their families the pleasure of taking a well deserved vacation. The company also provides a certified nephrologist and one or more dialysis nurses (depending on the number of dialysis patients on the cruise) on each cruise. Patients have access to the medical team 24 hours a day and if necessary, the stateside medical support team can be reached around the clock.

Although he was hesitant, Shakur entered his name into a drawing to win a free cruise for two from Dialysis at Sea. “I wasn’t expecting to win anything,” said Shakur. “My wife will tell you, I don’t like cruises. I get sea-sick.” When it was time to announce the big winner, Shakur’s name was plucked from the basket.

According to Shakur, he wasn’t too excited about winning a free cruise. “My wife had to convince me that we needed to do this. I remember going out on deep sea fishing boats and getting seasick. It’s the worst feeling in the world.” But representatives from Dialysis at Sea explained to Shakur that cruise ships are much steadier than boats. And there will be plenty activities to keep him and his wife entertained.

Dialysis at Sea sent Shakur a packet of information outlining everything he needed to do before the trip. “For example, I had to send my lab results, chest x-rays and CT-scans. Getting those things was no trouble at all. And I already had my passport. For me, it was a very easy process.”

Dialysis patients must provide an extensive medical history to the medical department of the dialysis cruise company in the event of an emergency. The dialysis team on the cruise must be familiar with all the dialysis patients scheduled to cruise on the ship. Once on the ship, dialysis treatment is no different from dialysis on land. “Doing dialysis on the ship is just like doing dialysis on land,” according to Shakur. “However, when I do dialysis on land, there’s a TV or other activities. Out at sea, the only thing I could do is sleep. But the treatment went very well.”

And the concerns Shakur had about sea sickness? “The first day on the cruise, I thought for-sure I would get sick. I had the seasickness patch ready, but I never had to use it. The ship was so big. It was smooth sailing. And the rooms were really nice and there was so much to do.”

Cruise ships have a variety of activities for all their passengers including children, people with special needs and older adults. Activities include a kids’ zone, rock climbing wall, shopping, bingo and Broadway shows. “My wife and I really enjoyed the Broadway shows. The quality of the shows reminded me of something you would see in New York or Las Vegas,” said Shakur.

Shakur suspects he and his wife will cruise again. “Patients can still have a fun cruise experience and their dialysis and not miss a thing!”

Jerome A. Bailey is the Communications Manager for AAKP and Editor of aakpRENALIFE.

This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of aakpRENALIFE.