Background: In the aftermath of large natural and manmade disasters, the need for continuing maintenance haemodialysis (HD) in end-stage renal disease patients of the disaster area and care including dialysis for patients suffering from acute kidney injury (AKI) due to crush syndrome are the two most important nephrological problems.
Methods: We report on how renal patients and renal care personnel faced emergency in the aftermath of the earthquake that struck the Italian town of L'Aquila and a surrounding district, on Monday 6 April 2009, causing 308 deaths, some 1500 injured and 66,000 people to be displaced.
Results: The Dialysis Centre in the town did not collapse but was seriously damaged and out of action, making it necessary to move 88 patients on regular dialysis treatment to the closest available facilities to continue treatment. This was all the more urgent in that 45 patients of the Monday-Wednesday-Friday batch were coming off the long interdialytic interval, with possible medical problems (i.e. high increase in weight gain, blood pressure, etc.). In spite of manifold difficulties (including road interruption and shortage of means of transportation, problems in establishing contact between patients and care personnel due to failure of phone and electronic communication and the limited number of available dialysis posts), no patient missed any scheduled HD session. This was obtained thanks to the transfer of patients to neighbouring functioning units, often with extra dialysis shifts. In 3 days, a provisional Dialysis Centre was set up in an inflatable military-style tent, enabling 780 dialysis sessions to be performed safely on patients who had opted to return to L'Aquila. The tent facility was replaced by a rigid modular structure, insulated as living accommodation, containing 13 dialysis machines (20 from 17 November) functioning in HD or on-line haemodiafiltration. Ten cases of crush-related AKI needing dialysis treatment were recorded, the ratio of dialysed victims to number of deaths (32.4: 10 cases/308 deaths, 1000×) being the highest value yet reported. Fasciotomy was performed in six patients but none of the patients had to be amputated. Intermittent HD was used in most cases as the single modality of renal replacement therapy. All patients survived and recovered renal function on discontinuing dialysis treatment. Serum creatinine returned to normal values upon discharge from hospital or during the follow-up period.
Conclusions: Each earthquake is different and may pose issues that will require unanticipated response efforts. Advance planning and rescue coordination, flexibility and creativity in the emergency situation, as well as the hard work and dedication of the entire dialysis care community, contributed to the remarkably positive outcome of dialysis-needing patients in the aftermath of the Aquila earthquake.