FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Shad Ireland, a dialysis patient who was near death 25 years ago with kidney failure, visited patients at two Fresenius Medical Care clinics here to inspire them with his experiences competing in Ironman triathlon competitions. Here, Ireland sits at a dialysis station at the Fresenius clinic at Pearlridge Center in Aiea.
His life depends on five hours of dialysis every other day, but that has not stopped Shad Ireland from pursuing a dream to compete in Ironman triathlons and maybe one day in the championship.
The 35-year-old Minnesotan is the first dialysis patient known to complete a triathlon -- including a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile marathon -- and he has finished 14 of them since 2003.
His ultimate goal is to participate in the Triathlon World Championships in Kailua-Kona as a physically challenged athlete.
"Dialysis doesn't fall under what they deem a disability, but they could invite me," he said in an interview. "That would be a dream come true for me."
Ireland said he has taken a year off from Ironman distances to do five shorter Olympic distance triathlons. In between, he tries to encourage people with renal failure and others with chronic diseases.
Visiting Fresenius Medical Care Dialysis facilities in Pearlridge and Kapolei earlier this month, he told dialysis patients that, like him, they can achieve their goals and dreams.
He said he also receives thousands of e-mails from healthy people inspired by his accomplishments. He said a technician at one of the dialysis centers he visited here told him, "If you can do that in dialysis, I think I can make time to walk."
Ireland said his kidneys "just stopped working" when he was 10 years old. "In six months I went from being a healthy child to 80 pounds of fluid floating around in my body and needing dialysis."
He said his weight dropped from 145 pounds to 75, and his life expectancy was six months "if I was lucky."
COURTESY FRESENIUS MEDICAL CARE
Shad Ireland has competed in 14 triathlons since 2003, despite being on dialysis since age 10.
He saw an Ironman triathlon on the TV while spending 13 months "on my mother's couch" after leaving the hospital and said he was mesmerized watching people "crawl across the finish line."
He said he promised himself that "one day I would be running with the best in the world," but he forgot about it in the struggle to survive. "I had no hope. I was waiting to die for many years."
Then, in 2003, he remembered his promise to himself and told friends he was going to do the triathlon world championship, he said. "They all laughed at me. Looking back, I can see how crazy it seemed." Only one doctor, who had done ultramarathons, said, "Let's try. It's never been done," he said.
When he began training, he weighed less than 100 pounds and he was debilitated from dialysis, he said. He could only walk two minutes on the treadmill and could barely lift 2-pound dumbbells, he said.
His mother and friends kept saying, "You can't do this; you're going to hurt yourself," he said. "But I persevered."
His first triathlon, on July 25, 2004, at Lake Placid, N.Y., was much harder than he expected, but he finished in 16 hours, 25 minutes and 10 seconds, he said.
Ireland set up a foundation in December 2004 and joined with the Fresenius Medical Care dialysis facilities to try to educate people to prevent renal failure and improve their health with exercise. "We get people back to feeling better and being productive ... and doing things important to them."
The longest anyone on dialysis has lived is 31 years, Ireland said. "I continue to train. I think this disease can be beaten. ... Every day is a struggle but I'm so determined."
He has had two kidney transplants -- one lasting three years, the other, two months -- but says he will not have a third one. "I feel healthier with exercise and dialysis."
Kidney disease growth
The number of Hawaii residents on kidney dialysis more than doubles every 10 years, says Glen Hayashida, National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii executive director. Currently, the number is 2,300 residents.
He said kidney disease has been redefined in stages with an estimated 100,000 unidentified isle patients progressing in stages one through four to the fifth stage with kidney failure and dialysis.