At age 67, Ed Strudwick’s nearly 36 years on hemodialysis may be a world record.
No matter how ordinary his life looks from the outside, though, Ed Strudwick, 67, is not a typical senior. Three times each week since February 1972 he has undergone hemodialysis, a nearly 36-year time span that could possibly make him the longest-surviving dialysis patient in the world. Strudwick’s nephrologist, Robert Rigolosi, MD, says he attributes his patient’s longevity to several factors.
“Ed is very compliant,” says Dr. Rigolosi, director of the hemodialysis department at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, N.J. “He does exactly what we ask as far as following a diet and taking his medications are concerned. He arrives on time and stays for the entire length of his treatments. He’s also got great family support and good medical care.”
While Strudwick’s record-breaking dialysis survival is certainly cause for celebration, he, his family and his medical team have faced numerous challenges and setbacks over the years. On a recent morning, as blood flowed through tubes connected to a state-of-the-art dialysis machine and into his left thigh, Strudwick shared his experience with Renal & Urology News.
A medical odyssey
When Ed Strudwick was 31, he was diagnosed with pyelonephritis, which led to hospitalization and, ultimately, kidney failure. Doctors told him his options for survival were few. “At that time, access to dialysis was limited,” Dr. Rigolosi says.
Under the hospital staff’s supervision, Gloria Strudwick learned how to dialyze her husband, something she continued to do for the next 25 years. This arrangement enabled Strudwick to keep working, fitting in his treatments around job and family commitments. “If I worked the afternoon shift, I’d dialyze in the morning; if I worked the midnight shift I’d dialyze in the afternoon. And if we had a family party to go to I’d just dialyze the next day. As long as I dialyzed three times a week, it was fine.”
In 1977, Strudwick underwent a cadaveric kidney transplant. Unfortunately, it was a disaster. “I never got out of the hospital,” he says, grimacing at the memory. “My body started rejecting it immediately and they had to take it out.”
After that, Strudwick decided dialysis was the way to go. “When Ed was younger, we encouraged him to go back on the transplant registry,” Dr. Rigolosi says. “But he had a bad experience and just didn’t want to go through it again.”
Dialysis itself, however, was hardly a bed of roses. In 1988, in the days before erythropoietin-stimulating agents, Strudwick underwent numerous blood transfusions following an episode of internal bleeding. As a result, he contracted hepatitis B. Then, in 2000, Strudwick needed a heart-valve re-placement.
Since then, he has added Coumadin (warfarin) to a medication regimen that also includes vitamins, antacids, phosphate binders, and anti-hypertensives. He has also had numerous vascular access complications, including infections and clotting problems. Because he has been on dialysis for so long, he’s also “running out of vascular access sites,” says Dr. Rigolosi. “He’s had fistulas, grafts, and catheters in his neck.”
He has also lived through many of the problems encountered by dialysis patients in the past. For example, physicians used to give patients phosphate binders that contained aluminum; those who took them often developed aluminum toxicity-related encephalopathy that caused convulsions and disorientation. “Ed’s been through that era,” Dr. Rigolosi says, “and he survived it.”
In fact, both men have been around long enough to see vast improvements in the dialysis field. “In 1969, it took almost an hour to set up one ma-chine,” Dr. Rigolosi relates. “Today, the technicians do it in 15-20 minutes. The monitoring is better; solutions are better; the dialyzer itself is better.”
“When I first started, they had a machine with a big plastic tank on the bottom that held 30 gallons of water;” adds Strudwick. “And I was on the machine for six hours at a time. Then the equipment got better and now I’m down to just three hours.”