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From Rough Seas to Bright Horizons: Vernon Williams’ Dialysis Voyage

As a Captain in the Navy, Vernon Williams learned how to follow procedure. Those skills came in handy when he needed to learn a new way of life on home hemodialysis.

During his 33 years in the Navy, Captain Vernon Williams served in six different U.S. states and abroad. He worked on and inside submarines for the better part of 20 years. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. He learned the true meaning of the word “discipline.” Little did he know how these life lessons would play a hand when, decades later, he had to adapt to a new way of life.

New Marching Orders

These days Vernon’s disciplined approach to life is helping him stay healthy and adhere to a consistent home hemodialysis (HHD) routine. Christy, his wife of 49 years as well as his care partner, helps him set up, administer, and breakdown for several hours of therapy, which he does five days a week. And Vernon says much of the credit for his wellbeing goes to his nurses, who trained the couple and gave them the confidence to take control of his treatments.

“Miss Cindy (one of Vernon’s nurses) took the time to build me out a step-by-step procedure (for dialysis),” recounts the veteran. “ It made a huge difference. That was one thing I learned in the submarine world, was following those procedures.”

Though now a regular part of their days, dialysis is a fairly new normal in the Williams household. Just 10 years ago, Vernon, an active non-smoker and non-drinker, had a clean bill of health. But in 2012 it was discovered he had kidney cancer. Doctors removed one kidney and part of the other, which put him in remission for several years. However, the cancer returned in 2019, requiring his functioning kidney and his bladder to be taken out. Dialysis went from a possibility to a certainty. 

“The first question that comes to your mind is, ‘Am I going to live?’” Vernon remembers. “After the first week, you kind of say, ‘Okay I’m going to live, now how do I learn how to do this?’”

(More Than) Basic Training

For Vernon and Christy, the learning curve was shortened and eased for a number of reasons; the first being that Vernon started doing his “homework” almost as soon as he was diagnosed with cancer the first time.

“I researched and knew about home dialysis,” remembers Vernon. “I wanted to know my options because even back then I knew I might eventually need dialysis.”

Another advantage Vernon had was taking part in Fresenius Kidney Care’s Transitional Care Unit (TCU) program. TCUs are small, separate treatment areas within a dialysis center where new patients can learn about different treatment options and decide which is best for them. Vernon was relatively sure he wanted to do HHD, and the TCU gave him the opportunity to ease into his new treatment regimen.

Vernon says that beyond the TCU being a great place to start dialysis, he believes his training there will “lead to longer term success.” He was also inspired watching how the nurses and staff treated other patients and took care of their needs.

“Those people bend over backwards to help, and the front desk person greeted everyone who came in with a smile; she started encouraging them as soon as they came through the door” says Vernon. “The social workers worked diligently to help with insurance, trying to get them transportation, collaborating with the dietitians. You want to talk about a good team? It’s a good team.”

The attention and cooperation Vernon receives from the Fresenius Kidney Care network has been invaluable, he says. With their help, he was able to make trips to see his 93-year-old father in Missouri, while staying on track with his dialysis therapy.

“The Springfield, Missouri team welcomed me and worked out a treatment schedule that enabled me to visit my father,” remembers Vernon. “Those visits became even more memorable after my father passed in January 2021, and the network was especially helpful when I was preparing for his funeral. They made life much easier.”

Winning Strategy

Because of his expert care, dedication, and self-advocacy, Vernon is enjoying an active lifestyle at age 71. He and Christy live in Mobile, Alabama, and enjoy reading the Bible together, playing with their white German Shepherd Scarlett, doing yard work, and swimming (when the weather permits).

Vernon admits that being a home patient takes work, and jokes that “you become a medical technician, lab tech, logistics manager, large cardboard recycler, and medical waste handler all in one when you choose HHD.” But at the end of the day, he believes it’s well worth the effort.

“In a nutshell, when you choose HHD, you own your treatment and have a high degree of control over when and where you do therapy,” he says“Also, the home environment helps you keep a positive mental and emotional attitude.”

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