Decades in the making, a new dialysis unit in Mistissini will finally allow the community’s diabetes patients to receive care at home. The clinic, which opened October 8, offers hemodialysis for patients who had previously been treated in Chibougamau or Montreal.

Dialysis is a process to clean the blood for advanced diabetics suffering kidney failure and need the treatment to keep them alive.

During dialysis a patient is intravenously connected to a device that draws out their blood to filter it because their natural kidney filtration no longer functions. Most who undergo dialysis treatment need the process three times per week over an average of four hours.

Lisa Petagumskum

Lisa Petagumskum

Lisa Petagumskum, the Assistant Executive Director of Miyupimaatisiiun, Mistissini’s health centre, says the medical advance is a huge step for the community.

“We really take pride in being able to provide this service on the territory,” said Petagumskum. “There are a lot of people who have put in their time and have sacrificed a lot of family time to be able to get this off the ground.”

According to the Cree Health Board, almost a quarter of the population of Eeyou Istchee over 20 years of age had been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes by 2011.

For Mistissini, which has a population of 3,569, this means approximately 600 people suffer from Type 2 diabetes and another 150 residents are in a state of pre-diabetes, meaning they have high blood sugar and are at risk for developing diabetes.

The Quebec government provided funding for the clinic under a health agreement signed in the early 2000s. The unit was opened with four patients in a ceremony attended by the community’s Chief and Deputy Chief. The four-nurse team operates the clinic five days a week.

Once the clinic is in full operation it will be able to treat about 12 patients per day. At the moment 18 patients from Mistissini require dialysis three times per week. Of those, 15 have been receiving dialysis in Chibougamau while three needed to travel to Montreal because Chibougamau has been at capacity.

The Mistissini clinic functions with satellite supervision from a nephrologist in Montreal who verifies each patient’s treatment. A goal is to open up another satellite in Waskaganish so that patients there will also receive treatment in their home community.

According to Petagumskum, the inspiration for the clinic came from the community’s youth after a letter had been published in the Nation by Daisy Matabie back in 1997 about the needs for dialysis treatment on the territory and the impact being away from home had on the patients and their families.

The Cree Nation Youth Council then began organizing the Journey through the Heart of Eeyou Istchee: Bringing Our People Home, a traditional walk that raised over $600,000 for dialysis machines in Chibougamau.

According to Ashley Iserhoff, the then-CNYC Deputy Grand Chief who participated in the walk with James Gunner, John F. Matoush and Andrew Neeposh, the new clinic is a dream that finally came true.

“It’s a good thing to have this dialysis clinic open and it is exciting because a lot of the families have been apart but now have been brought together. They don’t need to travel an extensive amount of time anymore or be apart,” said Iserhoff.

“It was really hard on the family members of those who were on dialysis at that time because they were away from home and would be gone for sometimes six months or a year and then only be able to come home for a few days. This is what got us moving and it moved us to do what we did back in 1999.”