How long can a person live with near kidney failure?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

What is the life expectancy for someone whose heart and kidneys are on the "edge" of failure?

My MIL was diagnosed with hemochromatosis 25 years ago. Recently, she was hospitalized and diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Her kidneys also began to fail and she gained 16 pounds of water. Miraculously, her kidneys kicked back into gear and she lost all the water weight. She then got an infection in her leg and blood poisoning. Her kidneys began to fail and she was in ICU for five days. The hospital had the talk with us re: quantity of live vs. quality and we were prepared to bring her home and let hospice take-over her care. Suddenly today, she rallied and ate a full meal for the first time in at least two weeks. Given the severity of her condition, what is her life expectancy? Could she come back around?

Expert Answers

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

Reading your letter, it is really hard for me to tell you your Mother-in-law's (MIL) life expectancy without having ever examined her or looking at her labwork. With that being said, if the hospital had "the talk" with you about hospice for you MIL, then you should take their words to heart. Despite the fact that she rallied and ate a meal, she still has alot of medical problems that will eventually catch up with her soon. CHF (congestive heart failure)along with chronic kidney disease can be very hard to manage. She has had 2 tough hospitalizations recently, and the recovery from this will also take their toll on your MIL's quality of life.

Basically, it comes down to this. Your MIL is quite ill. With her health problems, she will probably remain sick despite all the treatments they could give her. Quality of life for her would mean that she would live the rest of her life with a focus on keeping her comfortable and at home (hospice). This is in contrast with focusing on quantity of life, which means that the goal would be on keeping her alive by any means necessary. In other words, more hospitalizations and invasive procedures. And, to be frank, this may not buy her that much additional time. It can also cause her pain and suffering, and the hospital is a stressful place to be.

Please understand I know it is very hard to make these decisions, and I have been on both sides of this fence. Think of whay your MIL would want for herself in her remaining time here on earth. I wish you luck!