Paddling the Extra Mile
E.L. resident to canoe Grand River to raise funds for National Kidney Foundation of Michigan
By Cole Bertsos
East Lansing resident Erich Ditschman has reached his 10th anniversary this year. But it’s not a marriage anniversary or his 10th year at a job. Ditschman is marking off a different kind of anniversary — 10 years of living on dialysis after his kidneys failed in 2000.
To celebrate, as he put it, Ditschman will start canoeing the 225-mile Grand River on July 14 as part of the 14-day Grand River Expedition. The expedition begins in Jackson, Mich., and ends in Grand Haven, Mich.
Ditschman is participating to raise money for his personal fundraiser, Paddling on Dialysis, which goes to benefit the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan, or NKFM. Ditschman, who is an avid volunteer for the organization, said he is taking the expedition on not only as a fundraising event, but also as a personal feat to recognize a decade of living on dialysis, a treatment that removes toxins from the body.
Ditschman said he has been preparing for the expedition by exercising regularly to get in shape for the adventure, which most importantly included several hours per week spent on the river to make sure he’s ready for the amount of canoeing to come.
Ditschman will be dialyzing each night while he sleeps in preparation for the next day. Maurie Ferriter, director of programs and services for the NKFM, said with all these factors, Ditschman has his work cut out for him.
Although Ditschman said the physical aspects of his illness were difficult to learn to deal with, the real hurdles came with processing how his life would change.
Doctors have been unable to reach a consensus as to why Ditschman’s kidneys have continually failed 10 years after the initial incident. Dialysis helps patients remove excess toxins and water in their bodies that normally would be expelled by the kidneys throughout a normal day.
After enlisting the help of both a psychologist and psychiatrist, Ditschman said working through the low points after the initial kidney failure was one of the hardest parts.
Ditschman said although he might not have started out optimistically, he is now on an entirely different playing field.
“The nurses would tell me when I was at the (University of Michigan) hospital when I did dialysis there … ‘It’s gonna get better,’ and I would feel like, ‘That’s malarkey,’” Ditschman said.
“But they were right, though, it did get better, so I kind of keep that same philosophy eight or nine years later. The good news is the ups and downs are much more shallow.”
Four months prior to experiencing kidney failure, Ditschman and his wife, Andria Ditschman, adopted their first child, Jacob, who inspired Erich Ditschman to take control of his care.
Gaining the ability to dialyze at home was not the goal of himself as a kidney patient wanting to get out of the hospital, but of a father wanting to maximize time with his kids, he said.
However, Erich Ditschman said getting past his reluctancy to participate in the process was a challenge that was not easily overcome.
Becoming self-sufficient not only was a successful endeavor for Erich Ditschman, but an inspiration to those around him.
Diane Cox, Bath resident and friend of Erich Ditschman’s for more than 20 years, said he serves as an inspiration to her and her entire family.
“Everyday he gets up and he’s such a wonderful father and such a wonderful husband and friend, yet he goes through so much more than other people could imagine,” Cox said. “But he never complains and he rarely talks about it.”
Cox also will be paddling for a portion of the Grand River adventure as a fellow canoer.
Now in his 10th year of dialysis and having adopted his second child, Antonia, four years after beginning dialysis, Erich Ditschman is focusing on living his life to its fullest, which he said is not about settling, but revising your outlook.
He said living on dialysis for 10 years has taught him a lot about himself and his life.
“If we can’t laugh at the hurdles life throws at us, we’d be crying all the time,” he said. “Ten years is an evolution, so now I try to realize when I don’t have a lot of strength, I’m not going to have a lot of strength that day and I’m just going to get through that day and not be mad at myself because I’m limited in my abilities that day. I realize that.”