It’s shortly before dawn, and the country roads winding through the fields and pine forests of northwestern Louisiana are still empty as Bobby Claiborne leaves his house in the woods to make the 30-minute drive to the Fresenius Medical Care dialysis center in the small town of Coushatta. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Claiborne arrives at the clinic shortly after 6:00 a. m., carrying a backpack with books and his laptop or tablet. Having something to focus on helps to make the four-hour-long treatment session pass more quickly, explains the 57-year-old from Louisiana, who has been undergoing dialysis since September 2012.
Kidney failure brought on by high blood pressure forced Claiborne into disability retirement and changed his lifestyle dramatically. Yet it has not deterred him from signing up for an online course to earn a doctorate degree in theology – in record time and with honors. “I knew I had to be ready for dialysis and got in shape well before starting treatment,” recalls Claiborne. “That’s probably why I don’t experience it as being that exhausting.” He sticks to a daily routine that would be demanding for most healthy men his age. Claiborne gets up at 4 : 30 a. m., checks his e-mails and the news over a cup of coffee before driving to the clinic. After returning home, he goes for at least an hour-long walk or works in his garden.
Dialysis hasn’t kept me from doing what I want to do. I’m in good hands at the Fresenius Medical Care clinic, and I do my best every day to stay healthy, so I can enjoy life and even travel occasionally.
"Such commitment is rare among patients," says Nikki Bryant, clinical manager at the local Fresenius Medical Care facility. “We have a patient census of 38, mostly African-American males in their 50s, who come in two shifts on alternating days. I’ve never met anyone so focused on making the most of their time as Bobby,” adds Bryant. “He’s a role model.” Hemodialysis treatment is more than a draining experience since it requires patients to change their lifestyle and diet, undergo three to sixhour- long dialysis sessions usually three times a week and take multiple medications. In a healthy human, the kidneys clean the blood incessantly, around 300 times a day. If they do not function properly, though, water and waste materials can build up in the body. For patients like Claiborne, a dialysis machine replaces the kidneys, removing metabolic toxins, excess salt and fluids from the blood stream.
Through its network of dialysis clinics in more than 45 countries worldwide, Fresenius Medical Care provides treatment to over 310,000 patients, almost two-thirds of them in the U. S. Facilities. The clinic in Coushatta opened in 2001 and has a total of 16 dialysis stations. Medical facilities like this one not only offer regular treatment, but also serve as a community hub. "We give advice on better food and drink choices and how to stay active. We do everything we can to improve our patients’ quality of life," explains Bryant.
Giving up has never been part of Bobby Claiborne’s vocabulary. "I decided to make the best use of my time and work on something that wasn’t only dear to my heart but also one of the last wishes of my late mother," explains Claiborne, who started his degree program in 2015. Putting in long days for this endeavor even after his dialysis appointments, he finished the coursework and received a summa cum laude doctorate degree. "I’ve always enjoyed putting my mind to something and accomplishing that goal," says Claiborne.
His work as a pastor at local Baptist churches for nearly 20 years set him on the path to pursue a degree in theology, which required more than just discipline. Claiborne also needed a table for his laptop and books during his dialysis treatment. The clinic staff in Coushatta had to cast a wide net to find an adjustable side table, something usually only found in hospitals.Claiborne admits he couldn’t have done it without the loving support of his wife, Edna, whom he married in 2013 on New Year’s Eve. "She is a cancer survivor, so we’re a perfect match because we know the challenges of living with a chronic condition all too well." He can also rely on his five grown children and nine grandchildren, who all live a short distance from his house and visit him almost every week. And then there’s his father, who still lives in Natchitoches.
True to his character, Rev. Dr. Claiborne already has major projects lined up to keep himself busy. He loves to cook and is currently working on perfecting his skills as a grill master. “I’m buying myself an electric grill for Christmas to up my barbeque game,” he runs down the list. "But my biggest goal is to find a new challenge and be productive again. I’m in a unique position to counsel people in crisis situations." Even more important is the fact that he is waiting for a kidney transplant and expects to hear some good news soon. “The future looks good," says Claiborne with the smile of a man who’s been through a lot but has so far turned every obstacle into an opportunity. "And I plan to be around to enjoy it with my family."