Feature Story

The Improbable Journey: Baxter PD Patient Sails Solo Across Atlantic

In November 2009, 59-year-old Jean Louis Clemendot set out to do something no one else with end-stage kidney disease had ever done: sail solo across the Atlantic Ocean, from the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa, to the Caribbean island of Martinique. The journey would require three to four weeks at sea – a daunting task for anyone, but particularly for someone with kidney failure, who relies on dialysis to cleanse the blood of waste products normally removed by healthy kidneys.

Jean Louis had always loved sailing. As a child, he sailed on dinghies at summer camp. It later became tradition for the Clemendot family to rent a sailboat for weeks at a time to vacation during the summer. Their favorite destination: the Turkish sea. Jean Louis eventually bought his own boat, the Harmattan, an old 15-meter sailing vessel that he spent nine years restoring.

Jean Louis has led an active life. He served in the army, got married, became a father and grandfather, and succeeded in several careers, including the establishment of his own real estate business in 1997. It was around this time that he also learned he’d been born with a malformation of the urethra, leading to increased kidney pressure. He had two surgeries to correct the condition, but he ultimately developed kidney failure, and in August 2009, Jean Louis had to go on dialysis.

The need for dialysis meant Jean Louis had to cancel a much anticipated trip to Patagonia through Cape Horn. The thought that he may never be able to sail again crossed his mind. Then Jean Louis learned of a form of dialysis that was ambulatory and would enable him to sail and enjoy other activities in his life. Within weeks, he began planning his cross-Atlantic trip, about which he was very excited.

PD: Jean Louis’ Ticket to Freedom

Besides his love of sailing, another reason Jean Louis chose to take this trip was to demonstrate to other people with end-stage kidney disease that the condition needn’t be a death sentence, and that there are therapies available that can enable you to continue living an active and productive life. For Jean Louis, this therapy is peritoneal dialysis (PD), a self-administered, home-based therapy that Baxter helped develop and commercialize in the late 1970s.

“I almost made a mistake,” Jean Louis says. “I nearly chose to go on hemodialysis. Then I would have been confined to the hospital every other day. PD isn’t as well-known. It would be nice if the public were better informed about this method of dialysis. It gives you a lot of freedom. With a little planning, you can live quite normally.”

Three times a day, Jean Louis infuses PD solution through a surgically implanted catheter in his abdomen into his peritoneal cavity. The solution draws waste products across the peritoneal membrane, which serves as a natural filter, and into the solution. After a few hours, Jean Louis drains the used solution.

This form of PD, in which patients manually perform solution exchanges several times a day, is called continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD). Another form of PD, in which solution exchanges are performed by a machine overnight, is called automated peritoneal dialysis (APD). Baxter is the world’s leading provider of solutions and devices for both forms of PD therapy.

“One of the Happiest Days of My Life”

Upon arriving at the Port of Lanzarotte in the Canary Islands to begin his journey, Jean Louis found a pallet of Baxter PD solutions waiting for him. He took them all aboard and set sail. Jean Louis was in constant contact with his medical team during the journey and also received assistance regarding routing adjustments based on weather forecasts.

Jean Louis reported no problems performing his solution exchanges while at sea. The peace and solitude also allowed a lot of time to reflect. After 23 days, Jean Louis landed in Martinique to a hero’s welcome.

“I’m so happy,” he said at the completion of his trip. “This is certainly one of the happiest days of my life.”

He hopes other kidney patients will hear of his story and consider PD as an alternative to in-center dialysis for the freedom it can provide.

“Thanks to PD, I am able to live my life,” he says. “I am able to live my dreams.”

Jean Louis is already thinking about his next trip. For a man driven by challenges, it will be hard to top the one he just met.