By James Nesbitt
Mary Lewis, 2021 recipient of BC Renal's Wilma Crockett Memorial Award, has the same passion for ensuring positive outcomes for her kidney patients as the award's namesake. Mary, who works at Providence Health Care, which is part of the BC Renal network, is known across the province and beyond for her home hemodialysis dialysis (HHD) expertise.
She began her B.C. career over 30 years ago: "I came to Canada in 1989 on a one-way, no-frills ticket," she says, "and headed to B.C. to work at St Paul's Hospital hemodialysis unit."
She went on to assist Dr. Adeera Levin, Executive Director of BC Renal, in creating the province's first kidney care clinic and contributed to the launch of a provincial program that ensured kidney patients had access to early intervention care across health authorities.
Empowering patients and advocating for them are the driving forces behind Mary's approach to kidney care. In 2004, Mary was one of the first home hemodialysis nurses to work with Dr. Michael Copland on the launch of HHD in B.C.
Building her patient-centred approach
When asked what drives her "above and beyond" commitment to helping and advocating for patients Mary replies, "I have always believed that patient advocacy is a key responsibility of a nurse. Navigating the health care system can be daunting and I have experienced this personally."
She continues, "Nobody chooses to be in kidney failure. I see my role as trying to help support the patient and their family so they can move forward with this chronic disease in the best way possible."
Born and raised in Wales, Mary says an engaging teacher confirmed that kidney care was the right path for her as a young nurse. She recalls, "My first clinical instructor on the nephrology ward I worked on in London made everything seem so interesting. I remember feeling excited by nephrology! She was calm, knowledgeable and supportive."
Those in B.C. who work with Mary say she has the same attributes as her clinical instructor. Sarah Thomas, Project Manager for BC Renal's Renal Clinical Projects program, nominated Mary for the Wilma Crockett Memorial Award. Sarah noted in her nomination that Mary "puts as much care into her teammates as she does her patients."
When training nurses to instruct and monitor home hemodialysis patients, Mary says, "It is helpful to remind the nurse that there are many paths to achievement and as long as the practice is safe, let the patient do it. Patients are very creative. I am always impressed by what patients can do with their teeth when they are forced to work with just one hand!"
Ready for anything
B.C.'s kidney care network extends across B.C. and into the Yukon, but the challenges of geography and remoteness – or an unexpected event – are no match for Mary's ingenuity and compassion:
- Mary devised a dialysis tubing cleansing process for a patient in the Yukon who had bears going through his garbage because they were attracted to the leftover blood. Her solution is now recognized throughout the HHD program as a proven disposal safeguard.
- Fog prevented Mary from flying to Haida Gwaii but that wasn't enough to stop her from reaching a kidney patient who needed help setting up home dialysis. Mary hitched a boat ride with a BC Hydro crew and stayed in a lodge near the patient for a few days to ensure the first home dialysis runs went smoothly.
- When a patient lost his home in a fire Mary jumped into action, collecting household items, clothing and donations from her colleagues and connected with the local church, charities and the Kidney Foundation - BC & Branch so the patient could return to his community.
Praise and perspective
Sarah Thomas sums up Mary's positive impact on kidney care: "Mary is an inspirational leader who is passionate about the vision and mission of home hemodialysis. She's able to share that passion in a way that enables others to feel passionate, too."
Mary never had the pleasure of meeting Wilma Crockett, but remarks, "I am told she was a great advocate for renal patients and that very few staff knew she was on home hemodialysis herself. It is a huge honour to be in receipt of this award and I am also grateful to all the staff who have supported my learning over the years. I can honestly say my working career in renal has been rewarding."