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Chlorine in the water causes interruption in dialysis service at LBJ

[SN file photo]
All is good now — service back up and running

The regular routine for dozens of local residents who receive dialysis treatments at the LBJ Medical Center was disrupted momentarily last week, after chlorine was found in the reverse osmosis unit. However, reports that dialysis patients had to fly to neighboring Samoa to receive treatments, according to LBJ Dialysis Unit Manager, Olita Tafiti, are nothing but lies and rumors.

In an interview with Samoa News yesterday, Tafiti confirmed that the Dialysis Unit had to shut down operations on Friday, after tests revealed that there was chlorine in the water.

Tafiti was home when she got the call early Friday morning that there was a problem. Once contacted, Tafiti notified top hospital officials and the decision was made to close the unit down that day, "for safety reasons, and because it is the policy already set in place."

She said instructions were given to her staff to halt all treatment until she arrived at work. Once there, she retested the water and sure enough, there was chlorine in the system.

According to her, a safety check is conducted on the equipment every morning, and then again every four hours thereafter. It was during the morning routine check that the presence of chlorine in the water was discovered.

"The problem has since been addressed and now everything is back to normal," Tafiti said, adding that David Johns of Water Solutions, the company in Hawai’i that installed the system and maintains it, arrived Friday night and after countless hours of cleaning, sanitizing, flushing, and testing, the regular dialysis routine for thousands of local patients has resumed.

"Everyone was advised — for their health and safety — not to come in and get treatment that day until the problem was resolved," she said. "Chlorine is good for killing bacteria but in this case, once it enters a person's bloodstream, the results could be devastating. The patients will get sick right then and there, and they'd end up in critical condition with all sorts of problems. It is something that could cost someone their life."

Tafiti referred to a 1987 case in Philadelphia where a leakage of chlorine affected 107 patients, which resulted in the unit being closed down permanently.

When asked if it was true that several dialysis patients had to seek medical attention in Upolu, Tafiti scoffed and said, absolutely not.

According to her, before a patient can fly to Apia to get dialysis, they must first obtain the proper paperwork which is prepared by her. She said only one patient requested paperwork to travel to Apia but it wasn't because of Friday's shutdown; instead, it was for a family fa'alavelave.

Tafiti pointed out that it costs ST $1,000 (US $250) to get dialysis treatment in Upolu and most local patients who travel to Samoa usually get their treatment before they depart the territory, and immediately after they return.

"They just can't afford to pay the price being charged for this service in Apia," Tafiti said, adding that rumors circulating in the territory have stirred up unnecessary panic and worry amongst locals.

According to her, dialysis patients can go up to 2- 3 weeks without treatment, if they follow their assigned diet restrictions.

As for reports that patients missed several days of their weekly treatments, Tafiti said this has been misinterpreted, as those on dialysis are usually scheduled to have 3 treatments a week and since they missed their Friday session, they were allowed to make up for it on Saturday; hence, giving them their 3 scheduled treatments.

Tafiti thanks her staff and others she refers to as "hidden figures" who play a critical role in the care and treatment of dialysis patients.

"It is a big job, and it's not easy," she said.