Meet Darrel Ratliff, who continues to run his shoe repair business while also being an in-center dialysis patient.  Darrel was a diabetic for many years until lab tests in 2009 revealed values his doctor did not like.  He was immediately admitted to the hospital and given two dialysis treatments that day.  Results of a subsequent needle biopsy determined only four percent kidney function.  Darrel has struggled with many health setbacks such as anemia, infection scares and allergies.  He jokingly states that he must now follow a dialysis diet and that means, “if it tastes good, spit it out!”

Darrel doesn’t let his kidney disease stand in the way of his vocation — a skilled cobbler who works mainly on orthopedic footwear.  Three days per week, he opens his shop from 10:00 until noon, and then spends the afternoon on dialysis.  Other weekdays his store is open from 9:00 to 4:00.  Saturdays you’ll find him behind the bench from 10:00 to 4:00.    He learned about corrective footwear and shoe “alteration” by watching his grandfather, who had a club foot, customize his own shoes.

Darrel’s family has many members who work with their hands, so Darrel was a watchful apprentice in his youth.  He bought his first shoe repair store from a friend in 1977 and observed for one month.  Darrel states he reads extensively on the topic of orthopedics to help him understand what is needed in footwear that will accommodate his customers’ anomalies.  He prefers to work on high quality shoes and doesn’t advertise.  Word-of-mouth has kept clients coming in and he estimates that he serves around sixty customers per week.

His upbeat attitude is reflected in his suggestions for fellow dialysis patients.  “Keep your hands and mind busy.”  Self-employment works best for dialysis patients, according to Darrel.  He believes that computer skills are the key and using Wi-Fi at your dialysis center is a great use of time.  He takes his laptop to dialysis; sleeps for the first two hours, then watches the news and finishes up with paperwork.  “It makes the time go quickly,” he quips.  A former DJ, Darrel has compiled several playlists for enjoying while on dialysis.  For him, a positive attitude is the secret to working around his kidney disease.

Darrel also enjoys being a Patient Ambassador for Dialysis Patient Citizens (DPC). Darrel finds the time to elevate the patient voice despite having a busy schedule working and dialyzing. Darrel is always participating in the monthly conference calls to better himself as an advocate. He participated in the 2013 Fall Fly-In, where he met with legislators from his home state of Kentucky to urge them to reverse the proposed Medicare reimbursement cuts. He has contacted his legislators regarding the issues that threaten his care and written various letters to educate his community about kidney disease. To learn more about the Patient Ambassador program, click here.