Ironman contestant visits Suffolk dialysis center

Published 9:25 pm Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dialysis center: Shad Ireland, center, who has been a kidney dialysis patient for almost 30 years, stands with Becky McConnell, Suffolk’s Fresenius Medical Care dialysis center clinical manager, and nurse Jason Blythe during his visit to the center. Ireland visits dialysis facilities across the country to motivate and inspire other patients to continue to achieve and not let dialysis hold them back.

When Shad Ireland was only 10 years old, his kidneys failed and he was placed on dialysis.

Almost 30 years later, Ireland still relies on a machine to take the place of his kidneys, but he doesn’t think the condition should put his or anyone else’s life on pause.

“No matter what your age is, you can live successfully on dialysis,” he said.

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It was that thinking that motivated Ireland to become the first dialysis patient to compete in and complete the Ironman triathlon, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.

Now, with his inspirational story in tow, Ireland visits dialysis centers across the country to motivate other patients.

Recently, Ireland visited with patients at Suffolk’s Fresenius Medical Care’s dialysis center and talked to them about their lives and treatment.

“They feel like their lives are over,” he said. “I get patients to focus on the positive and make them believe they can feel better.”

Ireland sat in the Suffolk dialysis center’s waiting room for an entire morning, listening patiently, as people told him their stories and asked him for help.

He answered questions about avoiding restlessness, keeping on weight, managing potassium intake, dialysis home care and several other topics.

Ireland said he thinks many patients believe that on dialysis you are sick, and only a transplant can make you healthy.

“It doesn’t have to work that way,” he said. “I know enough to know (transplant) is not a cure.”

Ireland knows firsthand what it’s like to have a transplant. He received a kidney transplant early in his treatment, but his body rejected it and he was back where he started.

But that experience served a bigger purpose for him.

After he’d lost the transplanted kidney, Ireland was utterly depressed. He weighed only 75 pounds and was lying on his mother’s couch, feeling as if his life was over, when he found the Ironman race on television.

Suddenly, he perked up as he watched Julie Moss crawl on hands and knees to the finish line of the Ironman in 1982.

“I wanted whatever she had,” he said. “I wanted to know what it was.”

And in that moment, Ireland’s life changed, and he decided he didn’t want to waste his time.

Since then, in addition to the Ironman race, Ireland has completed 20 other triathlons.

He said he wants to motivate other patients to never give up and to work to achieve their dreams.

“It needs to be based on their goals, dreams and desires,” he said. “They have to reconcile with hope. They have to want something to improve.”

While he was at the Suffolk dialysis center, Ireland told one woman that he thinks dialyzing more often improves the quality of life.

At once the woman stood up, hurried to the receptionist’s window and asked the woman behind the glass whom she needed to talk to in order to increase her time on dialysis.

Ireland said seeing that happen was worth his trip.

“I have a responsibility to give back to my community,” he said. “I’m going to do it until I feel like I’m not having an impact.”