Simple Pleasures: How a Dialysis Patient Runs Her Life

Ruth Woolford loves being at home. For her, the simple phrase "being at home" holds a deeper, special meaning. Ruth is a kidney patient who performs dialysis treatments herself, at home. This means that despite having a life-threatening chronic illness, she is not tied to the schedule in a dialysis center, which would mean four-hour appointments three days every week.

Ruth and her husband, Alan, love the flexibility that home treatments bring to their retired schedule. She can run dialysis around her life, instead of having her life revolve around dialysis.

"I love playing cards," she said recently. "I play pinochle, and today I am changing my dialysis schedule so I can go to the game at the Redmond Senior Center." Ruth and Alan play pinochle there twice a week.

Ruth and Al Woolford love the flexibility of treatment at home.


"The amazing thing about home dialysis is how much it improves your quality of life," Ruth said. "I feel good enough to do the things I love, even on a day I have my dialysis. My husband and I go on long drives in the mountains, and I don't have to worry about getting home late or missing my dialysis appointment."

To keep up the quality of her life and health, Ruth follows some rules. A big one is to avoid salt, which contributes to high blood pressure and body fluid retention—a special problem for her, since with kidney failure she doesn't urinate.

Ruth is quick to point out that, even with healthy kidneys, everyone over age 50 needs to limit their sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams a day. Here are Ruth’s guidelines to a low-salt, healthy diet that could benefit everyone:

  1. "I don't use salt or things that have lots of salt in them—ever."
  2. "I rarely use prepared or processed food. Everything I eat is real food—food that doesn't come in packages."
  3. "If we have to eat out, we either split the entree or I bring home half for another meal."
  4. "When I eat out, I always order a side of fruit and a side of veggies. They help fill me up and they are always less salty than other options."

Try Ruth's recipe for pot roast below. It can make two, or even three, meals if you save the broth and add veggies for a nice soup the next day.

"Canned soups should be illegal; they are so high in salt," Ruth said. "I love my homemade broth. It has a meaty rich flavor you can't beat, and it is so simple to make."

Ruth's Simple Pot Roast

One 2–3 pound chuck steak
2–3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons oil
2–3 tablespoons dried minced onions
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut in 2-inch sections
1 pound new potatoes, quartered

Dust meat with flour in a plastic bag. In a large pot, brown meat on both sides in oil. Remove meat and add dried minced onions. Sauté until they are golden brown. Return meat to pot and cover with water. Let simmer several hours. About 2 hours before serving, add carrots. One hour before serving, add potatoes. Add more water if needed.

Makes 8-10 servings (4 ounces each).

Nutrition info: calories: 324; carbohydrates: 15 g; protein: 25 g; sodium: 136 mg

Ruth's Beef-Barley Soup

Pot roast leftovers
Assorted fresh or frozen vegetables
½ cup barley

For a second day's meal of beef-barley soup, save and refrigerate the liquid from pot roast. When cool, skim off fat. Chop up any leftover meat and add it to the broth with fresh or frozen vegetables. Frozen corn, peas, or mixed vegetables work well. Add 1/2 cup barley and let simmer 30 minutes on stove top.  

The information in this column is meant for people who want to keep their kidneys healthy and blood pressure down by following a low-sodium diet. In most cases, except for dialysis patients, a diet high in potassium is thought to help lower high blood pressure. These recipes are not intended for people on dialysis without the supervision of a registered dietitian.  

Contributor Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. The 2013 recipient of the Susan Knapp Excellence in Education Award from the National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition, she has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. See more of Katy’s recipes at