Maggie Colan says her skillful nurse at HealthAlliance Hospital‘s Dialysis Center helped save her life.
By Rita Ross
As seen in the November/December 2019 Issue of Advancing Care
At first, Maggie Colan, 55, didn’t think anything of the slight pain she’d felt near her left rib.
“I’ve had arthritis since I was 25 and thought maybe I rolled over on something while I was sleeping,” says Colan, of Stone Ridge.
But a few days later, on a Saturday in June 2015, the pain grew so intense that she headed to an urgent care facility.
“They took X-rays and couldn’t find anything,” says Colan, who works part-time as a secretary. She was sent home with a mild muscle relaxant and told to check with her primary care physician if the pain didn’t diminish.
By Tuesday, things got worse. Colan started having trouble breathing and hurried to her doctor.
“They did bloodwork and a CT scan,” Colan recalls. “The results showed a grayish area in my abdomen, maybe a bleeding ulcer, so they suggested I go to the hospital.”
Her husband, Richard, dropped off Maggie at HealthAlliance Hospital: Broadway Campus, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth), in Kingston.
He was on his way to a real estate closing for a cabin the couple was buying in the Adirondacks. “It was going to be our retirement place, and he figured he’d be back soon, and I’d just be getting more tests,” Colan says.
The medical team started an IV, and the next thing Colan knew, she opened her eyes to see her daughter Windy, 21, standing at her bedside. “Mom!” her daughter exclaimed, “You’ve been out for three hours!”
“I thought she was exaggerating, but when the nurse said, ‘Welcome back!’ I knew something had happened,” Colan says. “But I was puzzled; it seemed like only five minutes had passed.”
It turned out that Colan was experiencing end-stage renal (kidney) failure. A temporary femoral catheter was placed in the groin for emergency dialysis and two blood transfusions were administered.
“Apparently my potassium levels had been so high, my heart had stopped. At one point I technically died, but they revived me,” according to Colan, who says she has no family history of kidney problems.
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The temporary groin access was later removed and a vascular surgeon implanted a permanent dialysis catheter through a vein in Colan’s neck until long-term dialysis — the treatment for her condition — could be arranged.
In Colan’s case, it was decided an arteriovenous (AV) fistula would be the best way to prepare for her dialysis. To create a fistula, a surgeon connects an artery to a vein, usually in an arm, to build a large, sturdy pathway for blood. During dialysis treatment, a patient’s blood is gradually removed and sent through a dialysis machine, where it is filtered and returned to the body.
After the fistula heals for several weeks, dialysis is ready to begin.
“I have small veins, and it takes a special talent to insert the needles. The dialysis nurses have to start with needles that have small back ends, then gradually they use larger ones,” says Colan.
Enter nurse Mary Anne Ervin, LPN, of HealthAlliance Hospitals’ Dialysis Center in Kingston, the only outpatient dialysis center in Ulster County.
“Mary Anne has magic hands,” says Colan. “She never gives up on me, no matter how long it takes to get me set up with the needles.” Colan has been receiving dialysis for four years. Her treatments are usually done three times a week, for three to four hours each.
“Mary Anne can’t really know what we dialysis patients are experiencing physically, but she can see what we’re going through. She treats every patient with a high level of dignity. She’s my guardian angel. I feel like she has helped save my life.”
Mary Anne can’t really know what we dialysis patients are experiencing physically, but she can see what we’re going through…. She’s my guardian angel. I feel like she has helped save my life. — Maggie Colan
Ervin, who has served patients at the Dialysis Center for 19 years, says, “We love what we do here, and we strive to make our patients as comfortable as possible through the entire dialysis procedure.”
Sarah Moore, BSN, RN, Director of Dialysis, says the center treats about 135 patients. “Since they spend so much time here, we want to make it like their home away from home,” Moore says. “We’re focused on creating an environment of trust, care and compassion.”
Colan agrees: “It’s like a family. The entire staff is lovely. From the office staff to the nurses, everyone has so much empathy.”
And what about that cabin? Though many of her days are scheduled around her life-saving dialysis treatments, she and her husband put it to good use. “We go up there whenever we can,” she says.
She also shares a powerful lesson learned from her experience. “I didn’t get my last checkup because I felt fine,” Colan says. “There’s no guarantee, but maybe bloodwork might have caught signs of my kidney problem earlier. Don’t skip your yearly physical.”
Visit us at HealthAlliance Hospital, a member of Westchester Medical Center Health Network, to learn more. Advancing Care. Here.
Pictured above: Maggie Colan with her HealthAlliance Hospital “family”: Mary Anne Ervin, LPN, (left) and Director of Dialysis Sarah Moore, BSN, RN.
Photo by John Halpern