Kenneth Gouchie was worried about his 81-year-old father, Donald, who was snowbound in his West Seneca home and needed to get to a snowbound kidney dialysis center on Wednesday for his second of three weekly treatments.
But his 69-year-old mother, Barbara, who normally takes her husband to his treatments at Renal Care of Buffalo on Orchard Park Road, couldn’t get out of their house on Duerstein Street, amid more than five feet of snow.
After she was unable to arrange for transportation to the center. Kenneth Gouchie, who lives in Rhode Island, called the West Seneca Highway Department Thursday morning, setting off efforts that eventually helped his father and many other dialysis patients get the treatments they need to stay alive.
“My father becomes critical if he doesn’t receive his dialysis,” he said. “It can happen quickly. He almost died last December after he missed an appointment.”
Highway Superintendent Matt English said he would do whatever he could.
He told Gouchie to contact the town’s emergency operations director, John Gullo, to make sure that the dialysis center was staffed and able to accept patients.
It turned out that three employees had been there snowbound since Tuesday. But no patients could get to the center for treatment because the road into the center and its parking lot were buried under snow.
English then arranged for two of the town’s front-loader operators who were clearing streets in the area to open a path to the center and its parking lot.
Gullo then called Barbara Gouchie and told her that the lot was clear and employees were there to treat her husband.
Gouchie’s two sisters and their husbands, Darlene and John Schneck and Donna and Fred Miley, who also live on Duerstein, had already swung into action, recruiting their children and neighbors to shovel a path to the home and down the street to Seneca Street, which was partially cleared.
The group of 10 to 12 shovelers had started attacking the snow that morning in the hope that the center would open later that day. By 3 p.m., they had cleared a path to Seneca.
They put Gouchie’s father on a toboggan and pulled him to Seneca Street, where a family friend, Keith Gross of West Seneca, picked him up in his truck and drove him to the dialysis center.
“They got stuck once on the way to the center, but some people on the street helped push the truck,” Kenneth Gouchie said, and they continued their journey, arriving around 3:30 p.m.
After the treatment was completed around 8 p.m., Gross drove the patient back to Duerstein, where Gouchie’s family pulled him back home on the toboggan.
“Keith said he couldn’t believe how many people had helped out to get my father to the center,” said Gouchie, who praised the combined efforts of the West Seneca highway superintendent, emergency operations director, family and neighbors.
Meanwhile, Donald Gouchie is feeling better and is scheduled to return Sunday for another treatment.
The center treated not only Gouchie but also 24 other patients on Thursday, and also was busy Friday, according to one of the employees who declined to be identified.
Thursday’s patients included six from Mercy Hospital, which arranged to transport them to the center in a bus and then bring them back to the hospital after treatment, the employee said.
He added that although the center had no patients Tuesday and Wednesday, the employees fielded many calls from dialysis patients, answering their health-related questions and trying to help them get to other facilities for treatment.
The West Seneca dialysis center is part of DaVita Kidney Care, which has more than 900 patients at its centers in the Buffalo area.
“DaVita Kidney Care and our emergency response team are working with the entire dialysis community and the city of Buffalo to get this highly vulnerable patient population to their treatments,” said Rob Aroesty, DaVita’s regional operations director here.
“We have been taking care of all patients at several of our Buffalo dialysis centers, regardless of which provider they normally treat with.”
He noted the dangers facing dialysis patients when the weather gets bad.
“Dialysis patients are at special risk when weather threatens their access to care,” he said. “They need life-sustaining treatments at least three times per week, and there are hundreds of dialysis patients in the Buffalo area.”
He praised the DaVita employees who reported to work this week.
“The teammates who were able to get out immediately went to their dialysis center, where many stayed for multiple days, working ’round the clock to get patients to the center for treatment,” he said.