INDIANAPOLIS — It's a heartbreaking truth from an Indiana woman who witnessed her sister struggle with access to healthcare as she battled kidney failure. The stress of finding and paying for care is all too familiar for many families.
Now, one woman's experience has helped inspire Indiana's first Black-owned dialysis clinic and working to eliminate the financial barrier to life-saving care.
"We moved my sister in with us and told her, don't worry about it. Don't you worry about rent, don't you worry about anything," Kila Adams recalled of her twin sister, Keia. "So, she was able to concentrate on her diet plan and concentrating on her care plan and not to worry about the financial burden."
Thinking back on Keia's life, who died of kidney failure at the beginning of the year, Kila said that she was blessed and lived a full life.
"Even though she passed away at 38-years-old, Keia had accomplished all that she set out to accomplish. She loved her family. She would give you the shirt off her back. When Keia got sick, she was on a limited income, of course, and people would be in need, and she would buy groceries for them," Adams explained. "Even when she didn't have any income herself, she believed in blessing other people, and in return, she was blessed herself."
But six years ago, Keia was diagnosed with kidney failure.
"She was coughing a lot, and I was like, 'Keia, you need to get that checked out.' She was like, no, I'm okay. I'm just coughing a lot," Adams said. "It got to the point where she couldn't make sentences in between anything she was saying, so I said, I'm going to take you to the doctor. She said, no, no, no, because when you go to the hospital, you never leave."
Advocates say that hesitancy to seek treatment is often tied to financial insecurity for Americans who fear their income or health insurance that won't amount to the care they deserve.
"It's really stressful to have limited means and to try to think if I'm going to pay my rent. Am I going to buy my groceries for my kids? Am I going to get that bus pass that I need to get from A to B? Or am I going to go get my teeth cleaned?" Michele Trivedi, an Insurance Advocacy Resource Center Manager at ARC Indiana asked.
Thankfully, Kila's persistence didn't stop there, and she took her sister, Keia, to the hospital to see what was really behind that disturbing cough.
"They said, well, she has pneumonia, she can go home. So, I was packing her stuff, getting her ready to go home, and they said, no, she has to stay," Adams said. "Her kidney functions are under 10%. We're going to start her on dialysis immediately. Ever since then, that's when we found she was in Stage 3 of kidney failure."
It was a day Adams will never forget.
"She moved to one of the dialysis centers, which she didn't like very much. I'm not going to call any names or anything, but it was very detrimental to her well-being," Adams explained. "I'll just put it like that. She would say every other day that, 'We had to wait outside in the cold again.'"
But one woman, a guardian angel, was there to help Keia through her treatment.
"Yvette was there from the beginning," Adams said. "We didn't know what to do."
At the time, Yvette Dupree was working at another dialysis clinic.
"She helped her get healthcare. She helped her find a facility and took care of my sister," Adams recalled.
"As always, when you do things for other people, and you see things that happened and what you don't necessarily agree with, you always say, 'What can I do to make it better?'" Dupree, Administrator and CEO of Optimal Dialysis asked.
Inspired by her desire to provide better care for patients like Keia Adams, Dupree went to work with her partners, Richard Russell and Kaleena Weatherly. It didn't take long for the trio to open the first Black-owned dialysis clinic in Indiana, located on the city's east side, providing quality care to patients regardless of financial status with a focus on serving those in underserved communities.
"Most places, unless you're a big company, can't do that," Dupree said. "But we were hard at work, steadfast and determined to make it work."
"They're going to get that one-on-one care. They are going to get the same attention you'll get as if you were a $100,000 or if you make $10,000, or if you were private pay. Here, everyone is on the same playing field," Russell, a BioMed at Optimal Dialysis said.
"It's hard to live your best life when you don't even have access to basic healthcare," Trivedi added.
Trivedi said the U.S. has the greatest medical care in the world, but our healthcare insurance system is complex and difficult to navigate.
“You can find yourself having to pay a deductible of $5,000, 6,000, 7,000, even up to $10,000 even if you have insurance. So, think about what it would be like to face those types of costs without the benefit of having health insurance. We are all one accident, one unfortunate event, or unfortunate diagnosis from needing a high level or expensive level of care," Trivedi said.
Optimal dialysis started out with only two patients, one of whom was Keia Adams.
"She was telling them, 'I go to a dialysis center. They're one-on-one. When I get there, I can get in my chair. I don't have to wait in my car for an hour and a half for things to get ready,'" Adams recalled her sister telling her.
But it was too late for things to turn around for Keia. She passed away shortly after in January.
"I wholeheartedly do. I believe. No, I know for a fact that if Optimal were around, my sister would still be here. I don't have a doubt in my mind," Adams said. "My sister would be here today. She would have a kidney. She would be here. She would be here with us. I know for a fact there's not a doubt in my mind."
"To be able to connect with the patient and to all of our staff and to work together and make a difference. I just look forward to being able to help our community and being able to work together and be successful," Weatherly, a Director of Clinical Services at Optimal Dialysis added.
Currently, Optimal Dialysis has a waiting list with people anxious to start treatment. The clinic will have its official grand opening on Sunday, Oct. 17 at their east side location off E. 56th Street.
Open enrollment for coverage through the Affordable Healthcare Act runs from November 1 until December 15.
For more information, visit https://www.healthcare.gov/.