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Festival of Trees offers in-person, online events in support of kidney disease

Taryn Gantar tells her story of life-altering dialysis treatment
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Taryn Gantar, who lives with end-stage kidney disease, uses in-home dialysis treatments. SUPPLIED/St. Albert Gazette

Come the New Year, the University Hospital Foundation 2021 Festival of Trees hopes there will be many more people like Taryn Gantar. 

This year, the Festival of Trees fundraising efforts go to support the expansion of West Edmonton Kidney Care, a University of Alberta Hospital community facility. Currently, the facility’s first floor offers dialysis treatment. With the $1.2 million organizers hope to raise, the building’s second floor will be converted into a dialysis training and education centre where patients can learn to perform in-home treatments. 

Gantar, 45, a talent acquisition specialist for an international company, is one of 1,500 patients in northern Alberta with advanced chronic kidney disease. There is no cure, and they rely on dialysis to filter waste from their blood. 

However, she no longer visits a dialysis centre three times a week, four hours a day, for regular treatment. Instead, she has opted for at-home dialysis treatments, a viable option that has been a game changer for her. 

“When you’re going to a centre three times a week, it’s difficult to manage. You have to be on a certain schedule. You can't dialyze where and when you want. I used to have to go to the hospital and pay parking. And if you have a child, it can be difficult to find child care. At home, I can watch TV. I can dialyze when I want, [for however] long I want. You take the power back,” said Gantar. 

Since the medication suppresses the immune system, it is also easier for her body and her health to limit her outings.  

“At home, I am safe. I don’t need to worry about getting COVID or exposing myself” to whatever viruses linger in a group at a dialysis centre, Gantar said. 

The north Edmonton resident first developed kidney disease at the age of 23 after giving birth to her daughter. The impact of the diagnosis was devastating.  

“I was always tired and thought I’d go to the doctor for some vitamins. The results came back, and I was told I had end-stage kidney disease and needed to go on dialysis. I was a student at NAIT working on a marketing diploma. I went into denial. I thought if I didn’t do anything it would go away.” 

Concerned, the doctor called her parents in Gibbons, and the next appointment turned into a family affair. It was nine months before she agreed to dialysis. 

“I just didn’t feel well. I didn’t feel safe in my own body. I was fainting. I was nauseous. The toxins were building up in my body and I’d get brain fog.” 

The treatment was at times just as painful as the symptoms. 

“Dialysis was like running a marathon with the flu. You’re nauseous. You’re dizzy. Your heart races. Dialysis is mentally draining and physically draining. But you take your power back.” 

With her husband Tom providing nursing and technical assistance, Gantar leads an active life. In addition to working full time, she is an advocate for people with disabilities. The wife and mother volunteers as an Alberta Health Services advisor and offers peer support to the Kidney Foundation. 

“Home dialysis changed my life. Before I had to walk with a walker or a wheelchair. I was physically and mentally exhausted, and I was at the hospital on dialysis every second day. To do home dialysis is life changing.” 

At West Edmonton Kidney Care, patients go through a six-week dialysis training session for home care. Alberta Health Services pays for a home dialysis machine, an ultra-filtration system, and supplies. 

“This is an incredible opportunity for how patients receive care and to create a mentoring environment,” said Dr. Jodi Abbott, president and CEO of the University Hospital Foundation Festival of Trees. 

The biggest challenge has been COVID. Normally, the festival hosts 25,000 visitors, on average. Coupled with a gala auction, fashion show, Santa breakfast, and assorted fundraising activities, the foundation usually meets its target of more $1 million. 

But this year is different. To ensure public safety, the foundation has devised a hybrid festival with combination outdoor and online events. The outdoor Santa Breakfast at the Botanic Gardens sold out in two days. A second outdoor event takes place at Skyview Centre on 137th Avenue and 97th Street on Dec. 4 and 5. Families can expect to find horse-drawn sleighs, a light tunnel, creator displays, and a photo booth, as well as Santa and Mrs. Claus. The event is free, however, organizers encourage a $20 donation. 

In addition, visitors to Skyview can pick up 50/50 tickets. The total prize package is $1.5 million with maximum of $750,000 going to a lucky winner.  

Organizers have also created an online auction and three types of gift boxes filled with festive holiday treats for purchase. “Gifts of Gratitude” for 800 front-line workers and health-care professionals under the University Hospital umbrella have also been added to the list. For a donation of $500, each Gift of Gratitude will be filled with gift cards, restaurant cards, local products, or movie passes.  

“Front-line workers have spent a lot of time away from their families and they can enjoy this with their family. It’s a way they can spend time back with their family,” Abbott said.  

“Like every other year, Festival of Trees has a lot to offer. We encourage support through various events. Most importantly, we can support end-stage kidney disease.” 

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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