At only 17 years old and a senior in high school, Blake Schuchardt began suffering from an illness that changed the course of the rest of his life. Eager to start college the next year, he woke up one morning feeling like he had caught a cold or flu. He hadn’t missed a single day of school yet that year so he decided to take a day off to rest and recover but wasn’t feeling any better the next morning.
After waking up stiff and lethargic, Schuchardt thought a bath might help him feel better but he was too sick to make it to the tub. Noticing purple splotches all over his body, Blake’s father decided to drive him to the emergency room. Doctors at the local hospital diagnosed the purple splotches as an allergic reaction along with the flu. However, the family wasn’t satisfied and drove two and a half hours to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville where Schuchardt was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis.
The doctors at Vanderbilt knew it was serious and told Blake’s parents to call the family because they didn’t think he was going to make it. After a week in a medically induced coma, Blake woke up and his chances started slowly improving each day. Due to lack of circulation, doctors thought they would have to amputate Blake’s legs which had turned black, but in the end they saved everything except three toes on his left foot.
But after escaping one serious emergency, they found out Blake’s kidneys weren’t functioning and he spent the following year on dialysis. When it became clear that his kidneys wouldn’t ever bounce back, Schuchardt was placed on a transplant list at Vanderbilt. Finally, he received a call one day around noon informing him that they had a kidney for him, and if he could make it to the hospital by midnight they would be able to give him the transplant. At 18 years old, a year and a half after his meningitis diagnosis, Schuchardt made the journey back to Vanderbilt to receive his new kidneys.
After receiving the kidney transplant, Schuchardt was able to attend college while receiving dialysis at home. He still didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he started getting close to his dialysis nurses and realized it was something he might like to do. Blake applied to nursing school and was accepted, and after his graduation he was hired for an opening at Fresenius Kidney Care in Paducah, the facility where he originally received his dialysis care.
Eventually he transferred to a position as a home therapy dialysis nurse where he’s remained since. Schuchardt says his own experience with kidney failure helps him connect with his patients because he understands the hardship they’re going through and the additional physical and emotional ailments that can go along with it. Many patients feel like dialysis is an anchor that holds them back from doing a lot of other things, but Schuchardt lives by the saying that life is as good as you make it.
Thank you to our Nurse of the Week, Blake Schuchardt, for bringing light and attention to the specialty of dialysis nursing. September 11-17 was Nephrology Nurses Week, a national event to honor dialysis nurses.