In the QEII Health Sciences Centre’s dialysis unit, patient Tracy Murphy is doing more than passing the hours with television or a good book. While sitting, connected by tubes to the machine filtering her blood, Tracy is exercising.

Her journey to the dialysis unit began early in life with the contraction of HSP disease, weakening her kidneys. These enduring organs lasted her through two pregnancies, but a violent bout with the flu two years after the birth of her son led to kidney failure in March 2010.

Now for two hours a day, five days a week, Tracy donates her blood to a machine which promptly donates it right back. This dialysis machine purifies her blood of the toxins, wastes and excess water which build up in her body between treatments, cycling through her entire blood volume dozens of times each sitting.

“At first it’s a really huge adjustment, in a lot of ways — mentally, physically, emotionally,” says Tracy. “It was a huge change for my family.”

The loss of kidney function robbed Tracy of many things, not least of which the fitness classes she taught each week. The fatigue and frequency of her dialysis treatments made teaching impossible. Though fitness instructing was behind her, Tracy brought her passion for exercise to the otherwise sedentary life of dialysis.

“One thing you see a lot in dialysis are patients having issues with restless leg syndrome,” says Tracy. “It’s almost like being tied down for two to six hours depending on how long your treatment is. So just being able to move releases some of that tension.”

She found out about a cycling program for dialysis patients in other hospitals across Canada and from there, she spearheaded the purchase of a cycling machine for the QEII. Clinical nurse educator Carolyn Bartol, nephrology quality leader Matt Phillips, nurse practitioner Marsha Wood and Tracy herself, among others, formed the Exercise on Dialysis Committee two years ago in order to achieve this goal.

But these are not the cycling machines one finds in a fitness centre. They’re specialized for attaching to the base of dialysis chairs, allowing patients to cycle while remaining seated. They’re not cheap. Tracy raised $360 herself, which was complemented by a grant from the QEII Foundation which made this purchase possible.

For 10 years, the QEII Foundation has provided Comfort and Care Grants to items which wouldn’t typically receive funding in the health centre’s annual budget, but could improve the quality of patient care. Carolyn and Matt applied for this grant and received $5,000 last year, allowing them to purchase one cycling machine. In July 2015, they received another $5,000 for a second machine.

“It can help improve the morale of a dialysis patient’s life, because they’re doing something physical,” says Tracy. “They’re not just sitting here hooked up to a machine watching TV. They’re actually doing something that’s going to benefit their body, other than staying alive, of course.”

Marsha indicated that benefits of exercising during dialysis are supported by evidence in research studies. Some studies have shown improved blood pressure, fewer heart complications, and better dialysis blood work results.

“Studies have shown that people improve their strength, improve their balance and improve their overall energy level, so they have less fatigue,” says Marsha.

If the cycling machine has a flaw, it would be its inability to move between dialysis chairs. It only fits one, making it accessible only to the people who sit there for treatment, like Tracy. This amounts to three people a day, but the dialysis unit treats 230 people a week. The team hopes the new cycling machine will be portable and thus shareable between patients.

“If the new bike is the same as the current one, it will double what we can do,” says Matt. “If it’s portable, many more patients will be able to improve their dialysis.”

To date the QEII Foundation has contributed more than $1-million to projects through Comfort and Care Grants. In 2015, 51 different grants were funded — a total of $126,656, including $20,000 from Johnson Inc.