Kidney dialysis is as debilitating as it is lifesaving. A machine in a cold room takes over a function the body can no longer perform – namely, filtering every ounce of blood to remove waste.
Charles Thomas spent four months on dialysis before he got his second kidney transplant.
“When you go through treatment, your blood temperature drops adding to the cold factor. I just said, I can’t do this,” Thomas told NBC New York.
His mother died while he was in treatment, but two things she taught him brought News 4 to his story: One was how to sew, the other a life lesson: “When the world gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
In Thomas’ case, the lemonade was a prototype for a garment designed to ease the process of undergoing treatment, while also giving easy access to the ports and tubes that connect to the dialysis machine. The Teaneck resident said he designed it himself, added in a zipper and went back to the center a day later with his product.
“Charles walked in that shirt, I thought this was a hit,” said Dr. Thomas Salazer, Chief of Nephrology at Hackensack University Medical Center. “You have to be a patient to come up with all the nuances that Charles thought about.”
Salazer said he realized that the zipper would need to extend past the sleeve, and pants were created as well for people who get treatments in their legs.The average patient spends 45 hours on the dialysis machine, three days a week – an emotionally and physically draining experience that Thomas says his garment will change.
“It helped people retain their dignity, keeps them warm and removes the stigma of having a disease,” said Thomas. The clothing also gives nurses easier access, and cancer patients can use them as well for their treatments. Clinical trials are underway with patients in Hackensack Meridian’s South Jersey hospitals.
“The feedback has been phenomenal the access makes people feel good about not having to disrobe and be uncomfortable,” said Mark Sparta, President of Hackensack University Medical Center.
About a year after coming up with the prototype, Thomas and his doctor took it to the Bear’s Den – a committee of doctors, lawyers and capitalists who not only gave it a ringing endorsement, but more importantly the funding he needed to get it off the ground. His was the first patient innovation the hospital gave the green light.
“We want to leverage ideas from our team members and from patients to advance innovation and care,” said Sparta.
Hackensack Meridian has invested $25 million in the Bear’s Den. Thomas, who now counsels other patients with kidney disease, has a patent and will see a return on his invention which for countless others is priceless.
“This little garment changes people’s lives,” Thomas said.