By: Carol Beck-Round | Category: Health & Fitness | Issue: April 2014
Tom Fossa stands outside of DaVita Dialysis in Claremore, where he not only receives treatment for kidney failure three days a week, but also serves as the facilities network patient representative.
When Tom Fossa was asked by an administrator at DaVita Dialysis to report to her office one day, he thought he was in trouble. “It felt like I was being called to the principal’s office,” says the 75-year-old Claremore resident who has been a patient at the facility for the past five years.
That visit to the administrator's office turned out to be a request for Fossa’s help as the facility’s patient advocate. “When she asked me, I wasn’t certain I could do it,” says Fossa. “But when she said, ‘You have a bubbly personality and you would be perfect for the job,’ I replied that I would give it a try.”
Fossa never expected to be on this path – not just as a dialysis patient but also as an advocate for other patients who experience the same difficulties he does. “You get very depressed,” he says, “but when I listen to others and answer their questions, it helps me. I feel better because I’ve helped someone and made a difference in their lives.”
Fossa has been undergoing four-and-a-half to five-hour treatment sessions three days a week at DaVita since being diagnosed with kidney failure in February of 2008. “I was scared and worried when I was diagnosed,” he says. “I was afraid I wouldn’t survive.”
According to Fossa, kidney failure is due to one of two things – diabetes or high blood pressure, or in his case, both. Approximately eight percent of the U.S. population has diabetes. One out of three adult Americans has high blood pressure and 31 million Americans (one in six adults) have chronic kidney disease. Many are not aware they have it.
Fossa wants to educate others on the seriousness of kidney disease. “The number of Americans with kidney disease is 12 times greater than the number with breast cancer. More than 500,000 people in the United States are being treated for kidney failure, including dialysis and transplant patients,” he says, “and each year, nearly 70,000 patients die from causes related to kidney failure.”
Two years ago, Fossa was selected by the Dialysis Patient Citizens (DPC) to represent Oklahoma in Washington, D.C. “I, along with others, went before congressional leaders to advocate for more funding for patients who have had kidney transplants,” he says. “The only way to get off dialysis is to get a transplant. However, the anti-rejection medication costs $20,000 a year for life. While the government pays for the transplant and for the medication for the first 18 months, after that, you’re on your own. Most can’t afford the medication so their only option is to remain on dialysis.”
Fossa also spends his time working with patients, especially new ones who are afraid, just like he was when he first came to the facility for dialysis. “I speak with new patients who come into the center, welcoming them and asking if they have any questions,” he adds. “If I don’t have the answer, I tell them I will get it for them.”
“A patient advocate is a crucial part of our team,” says Brandi Payne, facility administrator. “Dialysis is a difficult undertaking and no one should go through it alone. The advocate is available to each patient as he or she navigates the dialysis treatment process. Patient advocates are involved in dialysis at both a local and national level.”
Fossa’s passion for helping other dialysis patients has led to speaking engagements, seminars and continuing education to keep others informed about kidney disease. “I love this work,” he adds.
“Mr. Fossa has a strong rapport with patients at our clinic. In addition to being a volunteer patient advocate, Tom is a dialysis patient,” adds Payne. “He understands quality patient care is our goal, and Mr. Fossa continually advocates on behalf of patients in the name of quality care. We are fortunate to have him as part of our team.”
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After 30 years in public school education, Carol Round retired and moved from Grand Lake to Claremore, Oklahoma in 2005, where she writes a weekly faith-based column which runs in 14 Oklahoma newspapers as well as several national and international publications. Three volumes of her columns have been compiled into collections: A Matter of Faith, Faith Matters and by FAITH alone. She has also written Journaling with Jesus: How to Draw Closer to God and a companion workbook, The 40-Day Challenge. This past year she has written three children’s books, a series called Nana’s 3 Jars, to teach children about the value of giving, saving and spending money. All of Carol’s books are available through Amazon. In addition to writing her weekly column, authoring books and speaking to women’s groups, she writes for Value News. She also blogs regularly at www.carolaround.com. When she is not writing or speaking, she loves spending time with her three grandchildren, working in her flowerbeds, shooting photos, volunteering at her church or going on mission trips overseas, and hiking. She is also an avid reader and loves working crosswords and trying to solve Sudoku puzzles.