Altruistic dialysis patient inspires others

Alan Watkins undergoes dialysis at the Fresenius Medical Care Cambria in North Philadelphia. He was honored as a Fresenius Medical Care North America Champion in Motion. — ABDUL SULAYMAN/TRIBUNE CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHER

Despite the toll undergoing dialysis has taken on his life, Alan Watkins makes sure that he stays physically active.

Three days a week, Watkins visits Fresenius Medical Care Cambria where he is hooked up to a dialysis machine. In dialysis, a machine takes over many of the jobs of the kidneys including filtering excess waste and fluid. The blood filtering treatments — which span four and half hours per visit — often leave Watkins feeling weak and exhausted.

Watkins, who has been diabetic since he was 17, knew that the disease would eventually impact his kidneys. His father was also diabetic and died from kidney disease. Watkins has been receiving dialysis treatments for the last three years.

“I kind of knew it was going to come, I just didn’t think it was going to be here this soon,” Watkins says in regards to developing kidney disease.

Since his high school days, Watkins had a love for basketball. He played NCAA Division Basketball for Duquesne University in the ’90s. Today, the 41-year old father of four, remains active by coaching high school basketball at Pel-Tech Charter School, lifting weights, running on the treadmill and biking. He also participates in the clinic’s “Easy Bike” program, riding a stationary bike during his dialysis treatments.

Recognizing that the dialysis clinic can seem depressing, Watkins likes to interact with the older patients and uplift their spirits. He often provides friendly visits to patients who are hospitalized.

“I just try to help out a lot of people around here because I’m one of the youngest people who come here. I try to talk to them just to keep their spirits up. I try to do anything that I can for them,” said Watkins.

Watkins was recently named as a Champion in Motion for being proactive about his health care, maintaining a healthy dialysis-friendly diet and getting regular exercise. He is one of 20 dialysis patients honored as a Fresenius Medical Care North America Champion in Motion for making a commitment to regular physical activity. Caregiver teams at dialysis clinics across the United States nominated patients and a board comprised of participants from various clinical and medical disciplines within the FMCNA selected the final national champions.

The Champions in Motion program is a part of FMCNA’s new Healthy Lifestyle initiative aimed at helping people with kidney failure live a better life on dialysis.

FMCNA nephrologist Dr. Michael Levin, regards Watkins as an inspiration to other patients at the North Philadelphia-based clinic.

“From coaching basketball to spending time with his family and trying to keep everyone in the room motivated, active and encouraged to keep living — not just surviving but keep living,” says Levin.

“We have patients who come in, sit in the chair and get a full treatment but not enjoy life to the fullest. He’s got a very contagious spirit that keeps us all enlightened and excited. It’s nice to have that breath of fresh air sometimes.”

Levin said because patients at the clinic spend so much time together that they have created a “family-like” atmosphere.

At FMCNA facilities, dialysis patients can discuss how to increase their physical activity level with their healthcare team, including a nephrologist, nephrology nurse, social worker and dietitian.

“Being physically active is important for all people with chronic kidney disease, especially those with end-stage renal disease, who require either dialysis or a kidney transplant,” Dr. Dugan W. Maddux, vice president, Chronic Kidney Disease Initiatives at FMCNA said in a release.

“Many patients find that they feel better on dialysis if they are active. Part of our job is to help patients find activities that are right for them, no matter what level of activity they are used to. Everyone can do something.”

Like many patients who are coping with kidney disease, Watkins must undergo dialysis until he receives a kidney transplant. Because there aren’t enough donor kidneys for everyone in need, many patients have turned to dialysis.

Watkins is being highlighted at a time when an estimated 400,000 people in the U.S. undergo dialysis every year according to the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Dialysis patients have to eat a limited diet, have fluid restrictions and a drug regimen.

Fresenius Medical Care operates more than 2,890 clinics in North America, Europe, Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Africa where more than 233,000 patients worldwide receive kidney dialysis treatments.


Contact staff writer Ayana Jones at (215) 893-5747 or

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