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Day-after Thanksgiving Turkey Panini by Erica from Wisconsin

When DaVita renal dietitian Erica from Wisconsin was a little girl, her grandfather always had lemon drops and Doublemint® gum at his house. Erica and her sister always thought those were treats just for them, but later Erica learned those were to help her grandfather on dialysis limit his fluid intake. This was Erica’s first glimpse at the dialysis diet.

Erica shares, “I’ve always been interested in food and eating healthy. I was in a program called Work Bound in high school that allowed me to shadow a hospital dietitian to see if it was something I would like to pursue for a career.” After Erica completed her undergraduate degree from University of Wisconsin-Stout, and her graduate degree at Mount Mary College, she decided to focus on renal. “I always enjoyed renal nutrition and it was my favorite clinical rotation during my dietetic internship.”

It’s a fortunate person whose passion becomes her career, and now Erica continues to try new ways to encourage her patients. Erica recalls, “When I first started at our clinic, a nephrologist challenged me to follow the dialysis diet for a week. Although I did it, I think I cheated at least once with a couple little chocolates that week. We are all human, and setbacks happen. I am always most impressed and proud of those patients that struggle and find success.”

Empathy goes a long way when counseling dialysis patients. Erica says it helps to remember the big picture. The dialysis diet is just one aspect of what is going on in a person’s life. Erica notes, “If a patient lost a loved one recently, that patient probably doesn’t want to talk about their diet but might want to talk about their loss. And, if not with me, I can refer them to the social worker or a psychologist. Sometimes, it’s the little things that mean the most to people, such as helping someone with their coat.”

Even for a professional dietitian, staying abreast of the current trends in eating and the latest food research is challenging. In addition to keeping herself informed, Erica says, “There is so much misinformation out there, from the Internet to elsewhere. Educating family, patients and the public on factual information can be a constant effort.” Because the world of nutrition is ever changing, Erica says, “I try not to overwhelm patients (or myself) with too many goals at once. If a patient’s labs come back all out of range, we pick one or maybe two to work on at a time. Also, I don’t like to set unrealistic goals. A goal for one patient might not be realistic for somebody else. Patients’ goals should be individualized and they should help in deciding if goals are feasible to them.”

When dialysis patients ask for advice on how to makes changes, Erica shares that keeping a food record can be effective. She also says that the most important thing a patient can do to improve health is cut out processed food and eat more whole foods. Erica says, “Americans eat way too much processed food loaded with sodium, sugar, artificial food ingredients and preservatives, such as added phosphates. I really try for my own family to make as many meals homemade as I can, and keep any processed foods to a minimum.”

Erica shares four recipes to help dialysis patients cook delicious and easy homemade foods. Give one of her recipes a try and enjoy a renal-friendly meal or snack.


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