Bringing joy to dialysis patients at a difficult time

TBRHSC Dietitian Holly Freill with renal patient Elise Wesley. Ms. Freill came up with the idea of Christmas hampers for renal patients, filled with food for a Christmas meal, that respects the dietary restrictions of patients. Says Ms. Wesley, “It’s a sad time for us who can’t go home but here’s something that we can be thankful for and be joyful about at Christmas time.” To make a donation to support the hampers, visit and direct your gift to the Renal Patient Fund or call 345-4673.

Renal Christmas hamper program looks to donations for support

Growing up, Elise Wesley always had a Christmas tree at Christmas. She hasn’t put one up since she moved to Thunder Bay in 2012.

“There’s no one there to enjoy it,” she says.

When Ms. Wesley moved here for a second time in 2012 to get dialysis three times a week for her kidney failure, she left behind her home and family in Fort Frances, including four children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Although she lives here with her husband David, it has often been a lonely life. It’s particularly tough at Christmas.

“I’d feel lonely, lost and left out,” she recalls. “It’s awful because you can’t be with your family, you’re often thinking about them, you can’t be with them, with your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren. You’re missing out on a lot.”

But last year, an initiative of the staff on the Renal Services Unit at TBRHSC brought a ray of joy to her Christmas that relieved some of the sadness.

Holly Freill, a dietician with the renal program at TBRHSC, sees the story of hardship and loneliness repeated over and over in patients who move to Thunder Bay. They leave home and family behind to get the blood cleaning treatment without which they would die. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s also inspirational.

“We just wanted to say we get it,” she said. “(Our team) want to help, not just with dialysis but that we understand and appreciate what they do. That we care more than just giving them dialysis.”

So she came up with the idea of Christmas food hampers for all the dialysis patients. Patients with kidney disease are on very restricted diets so Ms. Freill’s idea was to provide food that would still give some kind of traditional Christmas meal while respecting the dietary restrictions, and offer tips on how to prepare healthy meals when living with kidney disease.

The effect this had on the patients was powerful.

“I was so thankful,” said Ms. Wesley. “I was overjoyed. It makes you feel like somebody cares about you. You feel good, you feel like a person, not a left out person. Everybody’s celebrating, we had something to celebrate.

“It’s a sad time for us who can’t go home but here’s something that we can be thankful for and be joyful about at Christmas time.”

There are often great financial hardships incurred by patients who have to relocate to Thunder Bay from around the region. Many of her fellow patients are low income, says Ms. Wesley, so it’s also a big help in that regard at Christmas time.

Ms. Freill and her colleagues on the Renal unit will ensure the food baskets get distributed again this Christmas. It cost $4,000 last year and it comes from a patient care fund that would otherwise be used for other miscellaneous needs of renal patients. So she hopes to recoup some of the costs through support from the community and staff at the hospital.

If anyone would like to help with this year’s Christmas hamper program, they can make a donation to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation by visiting www. and direct it specifically to the Renal Patient Fund. Staff who donate to the Foundation through the employee giving program can ask that some or all of their contribution be directed to the Fund.