Since Pat Reifenstein's husband, George, died from emphysema in 1999, she's been trying to decide what she could do to help the people of Juneau remember him. This year she decided to donate $200,000 to Bartlett Regional Hospital Foundation to start a dialysis center in the Mendenhall Mall. She hopes it will help keep his memory - and dozens of people with kidney failure - alive.
"George loved Juneau," Reifenstein said. "I decided the best thing to do was to try to thank this city and hospital and in turn do some good for a very needy population of folks that have to be on dialysis."
Dialysis is used to treat people with complete kidney failure. The treatment removes waste, salt and extra water and helps to keep a safe level of certain chemicals in the blood, such as potassium, sodium and bicarbonate.
Some people who suffer from kidney failure in Southeast use a portable machine at home for the treatments. Others, who need a type of dialysis that removes and cleans their blood a bit at a time, must either move or travel to Anchorage or Seattle to receive treatment. Some people need dialysis treatments up to three times a week.
Bartlett Regional Hospital Foundation, a nonprofit group that raises money for hospital-related causes, has been working for three years to start a dialysis center, said Executive Director Charlotte Richards. With Reifenstein's seed money, the foundation was able to attract the support of Renal Care Group, a corporation that provides dialysis. Renal Care agreed to supply the extra funds, possibly close to $800,000, to equip the center, Richards said.
"We need this center for a lot of reasons, most importantly taking care of people from Southeast who want to stay in this region," she said. "There have been people who've lived here forever, and had to move but can't even come back to visit because they can't get treatment, and that's sad."
For people with kidney failure, treatment options are limited to dialysis or a transplant. Because transplant organs are so limited, most kidney failure patients undergo dialysis, and can live on average for 10 to 12 years with the treatment. Between 10 and 15 people with complete kidney failure live in Southeast and 300 live in Alaska, according to Jean Stevens, director of operations for Renal Care Group Alaska.
Stevens and Richards credited the Reifenstein donation for making the center possible. The facility, which will open in the fall and be able to handle up to 48 patients per week, will be named in George's honor. George Reifenstein was a physician who was certified to practice internal medicine, cardiology and pathology, Pat Reifenstein said. He had a private practice in New York for nine years before he took a full-time position with the Navy until he retired, after more than a decade, as a rear admiral. One of his duties with the Navy was to inspect medical facilities all over the world.
Reifenstein moved to Juneau in 1987 to be with his kids after the death of his first wife. He was 88 when he died. He and Pat were married for 11 years. George Reifenstein was always impressed with Bartlett Regional's facilities, his wife said.