Innovate Health invent a new device for kidney patient at Tallaght University Hospital

Innovate Health invent a new device for kidney patient at Tallaght University Hospital

The device has enabled the patient to have dialysis at home, so she can return to work

New invention for kidney patient

(Oct 23rd, 2023) Rona from Dublin began kidney dialysis in September 2021. While this life-preserving treatment was vital for her health, (taking the toxins and excess fluid out of her body), it was also preventing her from continuing to work. This was because each of her three weekly dialysis sessions lasted between three and four hours at the Hospital.

As Rona was keen to return to the workforce she asked the Renal Home Therapy Team at Tallaght University Hospital (TUH) if she could join their home haemodialysis programme. 

For people living with a chronic disease, home dialysis represents an enormous benefit to how they live their lives. In general, patients no longer have to spend up to 16 hours away from home every week getting treatment. They can have their dialysis at a time that suits them and their schedule. Critically for Rona, it meant she could return to work.

The Renal Home Therapies team at TUH was keen to support her in this goal. The Hospital has special training rooms set aside in the Vartry Renal Unit where patients are taught by specialist nurses, to operate the Home Haemodialysis machine for themselves. 

Rona started her training in the Renal Unit but soon hit a bump in the road. She was finding it impossible to manage the different lines which carry the blood in and out of her body and into and out of the dialysis machine. As she tried to use the equipment the lines kept spinning around and Rona couldn’t keep them steady enough to plug them in or out.

Normally before dialysis can begin surgeons create a fistula in the patient's arm (by joining a vein to an artery). The fistula is important as it enables the dialysis lines to be connected to the patient’s body. A needle is inserted first into the fistula, which is then connected to the dialysis line.

As Rona is left-handed, surgeons first tried to create the fistula in her right arm, but sadly this didn’t work. So the surgeons had to create the fistula high up on her left dominant arm. The positioning of the fistula was making it very difficult for Rona to try and connect and disconnect the lines, with her weaker right hand. She was finding it impossible to manage the process independently. Rona says “With my left (dominant) hand out of commission it was much harder, the lines were twisting and turning, it was just too wobbly.”

However, the TUH Renal Home Therapies team did not accept defeat. They engaged with Innovate Health, the Hospital’s special Innovation team to see if a solution could be developed. After meeting with Rona to hear and see first-hand what the challenge was and what Rona needed, product designer Alexander Fives developed a clever solution to solve the problem.

Alexander made a special plastic device (see pic) that looks just like a flat board with a raised sloped edge on one side. This raised edge has special slots that can hold the various lines steady, which means that Rona can now manage her treatment independently.

Alexander says, “I started with a prototype model which Rona road tested. Working together we were able to iron out any pieces of the process that did not work. When we were both happy that we had a design that could work I set about making the device in a format that is longer lasting and also meets infection prevention control guidelines.”

Rona says, “The new holder is working great.”

The Head of Innovate Health at TUH, Dr Natalie Cole says, “Rona’s story is a great example of the can-do attitude among our staff and their desire to help patients overcome hurdles. By engaging with our designer Alexander, the Renal Home Therapy Team helped to create a bespoke device which gives Rona much more autonomy and a better quality of life. It also demonstrates how important it is to have an onsite Innovation team to work with frontline medics, to solve problems for patients.”

Rona is now at home managing her dialysis independently around her work schedule. A successful outcome for all and a testament to the hard work of Innovate Health’s designer Alexander as well as the Renal Home Therapy Team.

Today is the start of Transformation and Innovation Week in Ireland.


Pictured  – Our patient Rona and Innovate Health Designer Alexander Fives