A determined Peter Phan vows to go where few people with his condition have gone.
Phan, a kidney dialysis patient for nearly 10 years, plans to cover every foot of his first 26.2-mile run adventure – the Seattle Marathon on Nov. 27.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s something I’m going to do,” said Phan, a 26-year-old Algona resident who undergoes three four-hour dialysis sessions each week at the Auburn Kidney Center. “Not a lot of people with my condition are able to do this. I want to prove I can do this.”
Phan is quietly confident for someone who battles severe kidney disease. He consistently puts in the long training miles, sometimes clipping off a 10-mile run to build the necessary strength and stamina to reach his goal – the finish line of a hilly, grueling Seattle course.
To refuel during the many miles, he frequently reaches for water and a secret snack.
“Gummi bears,” Phan said of the popular gelatin-based candies, which provide needed carbohydrates without the potassium. “Every mile or so, I eat a handful.”
Doctors consider Phan an anomaly. According to Northwest Kidney Centers’ research, he appears to be one of a few dialysis patients ever to run such a long race.
“I have tried many times to Google search for other patients who have ran marathons, or competed in endurance sports, and I have only found a handful of names,” Phan said.
One name who popped up was Shad Ireland, the first dialysis patient to complete one of the most grueling events in sports – the Ironman Triathlon, a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike race and marathon.
Ireland, who has been on dialysis for more than 25 years and experienced two failed kidney transplants, remains active in the fitness community. He also established the Shad Ireland Foundation, an international nonprofit organization actively exploring ways to further develop and expand its global impact on kidney diseases and their leading causes.
“I want to work my way up to do the same type of things he’s done,” Phan said of Ireland. “We are actually following each other on Twitter. He posts often on the training he does and the competitions he’s done.”
Phan’s background is cycling, his once-preferred mode of transportation. He routinely would pedal to work and dialysis.
“Biking home after dialysis in the dark wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done, but I did what was necessary,” he said. “I must have biked every day for a year and a half through every crazy weather condition we’ve had here in the Northwest.”
Phan now drives to work, study and play.
He recently received the Northwest Kidney Centers’ Christopher Blagg Rehabilitation Scholarship to attend the licensed practical nursing program at Highline Community College. He also works full-time on the night shift as a supervisor at the Car Toys distribution center.
Phan wants to be a registered nurse.
“I want to help people,” he said. “I feel it’s a way to give back to all those people who have cared for me in the last decade.”
That care began when Phan, then an 17-year-old Auburn High School student, suddenly collapsed one day in the spring of 2002. He woke up in the emergency room.
“I just thought it was a bad flu,” he said.
Doctors discovered his kidneys had stopped. They immediately began treatment.
Despite frequent and time-consuming dialysis, Phan maintains a positive outlook on life.
“I consider myself pretty lucky,” he said. “I’m pretty independent compared to some of the other patients.”
Phan enjoys the challenge and the freedom to run, a therapeutic outlet. He runs despite the fatigue that comes with his condition.
“I like to run, and I’ve set a goal for myself to do my first marathon here in Seattle,” Phan said. “My coworkers will be there to root me on.
“I really watch my potassium level, and I’m careful to drink a lot of water,” he added, “and so far, I’m doing OK.”