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Dialysis treatment leaves kidney patient unable to work

06 June 2023

Lee Farrington was 21 when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, but he managed his condition for 25 years, and got on with life as best he could. He worked hard, he enjoyed an active social life and he raised four children with his wife Michelle. But in the space of a year, since he started dialysis Lee’s life has become totally unrecognisable. He hasn’t been able to work, which has left him struggling not just financially, but emotionally too.

“I was told many years ago that I had slight kidney issues due to my diabetes,” says Lee, 46. “But I just plodded along and took my diabetes medication. Then three years ago, I was referred to the renal department in my local hospital and was told I was going to start haemodialysis at some point. Last April it was time to go to hospital to have a haemodialysis line put in and I had a tube inserted into one of the veins in my neck.”

Lee undertaking a dialysis session.

The impact of dialysis

Lee, who lives in Cambridge, had worked as a flat roofer all of his adult life. But he knew that as soon as the line went in, his career was essentially over. Lee says, “As soon as they put the neck line in I knew I wasn’t going back to work. My boss said there was no way I could get insurance to be on a roof.”

Lee returned to work briefly in a different role, but explains that now he’s on the kidney and pancreas transplant list, it’s no longer an option. “I did go back for a while as a supervisor, but that was when the company was working in Cambridge, where I live,” he says. “The jobs they have now are too far away, which doesn’t work now that I’m on the transplant list. I just can’t be that far away. I’ve applied for other jobs but I’m always honest about the fact I’m on dialysis and I could get a call for a transplant any day. And they’re not prepared to put any time into training me when they know there’s a chance I could not turn up to work the next day. Sometimes after dialysis I wake up the next day feeling fine, but some days I wake up and put the covers back over my head because my energy levels are so low. It’s not fair on them or me.”

Life has become a struggle

Lee is dad to Melissa 25, Lewis 22, Amy, 17 and Lucy 13 and having provided for his family for many years, he admits it’s been incredibly difficult to adjust to unemployment. He says, “It feels rubbish to not be able to work anymore and I’m still really struggling with it. I have been talking to a counsellor about it. I’ve never not worked.”

He continues, “Financially, it’s really tough. At the moment I’m living on £99 a week which is statutory sick pay. My wife has got a part time job but she doesn’t earn much so it’s a big struggle. We don’t have anything exciting in our lives, put it that way. We don’t have luxuries like takeaways anymore and we’re just existing, basically.”

But it’s not just the lack of money that gets Lee down, it’s the connection with others that he misses. He says, “I just loved my job. I loved going to different places all the time and seeing different people. Now I’m just stuck in my house near enough every day, on my own. My social life has gone because of my lack of money and energy and I’m so lonely.” Lee adds, “I feel isolated. I actually look forward to dialysis as I know there are people there who know what I’m going through.”

Lee’s younger sister Vicky also had diabetes and was on dialysis for three and a half years, before she died seven years ago at the age of 35. This weighs heavily on his mind, he says: “When it was time for me to start dialysis, I had a lot of issues as every time I walked in, all I could see was my sister on the bed. I had to have counselling for a while to get my head round it all.”

Lee is aware that his children may be at risk of developing type 1 diabetes and admits this is also a source of stress. He says, “My kids are all okay so far – they’ve had check ups and blood tests. But there’s also a lot of anxiety involved in that.”

Dreams of getting back to normality

Lee dreams of getting the call to say he has a transplant match, and is desperate to “get some normality” back. He says, “I’d 100% love to go back to work. I’d never go back to the job I was doing before because the fact that I have a fistula in my arm now [which connects him to the dialysis machine] means I’m not allowed to do any heavy lifting. But I can go in and make roofs look pretty after all the young lads have done the heavy stuff!”

The front cover of the Health Economics report document

Kidney disease: A UK public health emergency

We commissioned an independent report into the economic impact of kidney disease in the UK. The new report shows that the condition is growing so rapidly it risks costing the UK economy £13.9billion annually by 2033 without significant government intervention.

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