‘Dialysis doesn’t slow me down’
Detroiter tells story of triumph
By Donald Barnes
Special to the Michigan Citizen
Cassius Griffith says if it weren’t for his mother having a “weird suspicion” about his health one day seven years ago, he would have died the following day.
Growing up on the city’s west side and graduating from Henry Ford High School, Griffith lived what he calls a normal structured middle class life. “I grew up in a good house, I had everything I wanted. I was never in need for anything because my mother worked and my dad was a tool and die engineer at Ford Motor Company,” Griffith said. “When they divorced, my stepdad also worked at Ford for 30 years. We always had new cars every two years and clothes on our backs.”
Griffith says his mother raised him and his two brothers to always respect her authority; since he was a kid he says he’s never questioned her in any manner. “No matter how tough you were in the streets, at my house, whatever attitude you had when you came home you checked it at the door,” Griffith said. “We still talk to her as if we’re kids and I’m 43.”
With a mother who possesses such an overwhelming presence, the day Griffith walked into her house and she said, “You don’t look good,” he knew to take notice. Griffith says it was a day like every other working as a salesperson with ADT Security.
After making a few house calls, he went to his mother’s house for lunch and planned on doing his last two appointments after eating because everything was in the same area.
“She said ‘you don’t look good,’ but I felt good and I didn’t have a headache or anything,” Griffith said. “I had just moved over from Brinks Security to this job and I said, ‘you know I’m under stress. It’s a new job and I’m getting paid by commission so money is slow.’ But she told me it wasn’t stress; she said, ‘in your face you don’t look right.’”
Griffith, who was diagnosed with high blood pressure at the age of 21, agreed to be taken to the hospital despite him feeling healthy and sharp. “They ran my blood and (the doctor) came back and said my kidneys were only working 13 percent,” he said.
“The doctor said my plasma was so low I wouldn’t have survived to see the morning,” Griffith said. “I only had like six hours of life with the amount of plasma I had in my blood.”
Griffith was given a plasma transplant and put on dialysis immediately after. He says he’s never smoked or drank in his life, “I couldn’t tell you what a beer taste like,” he said.
“My high blood pressure is what caused it. They told me that my blood pressure was so high my plasma was literally exploding.”
Griffith began his dialysis treatment on the west side before transferring to Fresenius Medical Care-Bewick located on Jefferson and Cadillac. His outlook on his medical situation isn’t what most would expect. He stays cheerful and optimistic, which is hard for many in the same situation to do.
“In all actuality, this is not a main focus in my life. I don’t focus on what doesn’t bring me joy,” Griffith said. “I know I have to come do this dialysis so I come and do it. I give it the three and a half hours it deserves, I take the medicines I have to take but after that I don’t dwell on it.”
Eating healthily and maintaining a proper diet is key to most patients in Griffith’s situation says Norma Hutcherson, clinic manager for Bewick Dialysis.
Griffith takes it upon himself to run 20 miles a week at the Dequindere Cut. Hutcherson says she admires Griffith’s positive spin on life and values him as a close friend.
“Cassius came through the door saying, ‘Hey, why does everyone look like they’re about to die,” she said with a giggle. “He came and brought a lot of positive energy. He’s the only one that comes up here so far and exhibits that he’s really enjoying his life. He makes it such a pleasant experience when he comes through the door.”
Hutcherson recently nominated Griffith to be highlighted under Fresenius’ Champions in Motion Program, which recognizes patients with healthy living habits.
“On the days he’s not dialyzing, he’s running miles,” Hutcherson said.
“It sparked my interest, his whole approach has been how we can put a positive spin on what’s being perceived as a negative situation.”
Griffith says he plans to advocate for patients like him and looks to start a program that will do so in the near future. “I’m not trying to sound disrespectful, but if you want to have an illness, it seems with the way it’s promoted, cancer is the illness to have,” Griffith said. “They make the people who are diagnosed with cancer feel that it’s ok, as soon as you’re diagnosed they’re saying the world is with you. I want that type of image for dialysis patients.”
Griffith says it’s as if people with dialysis are “sitting in this dark cave and shunned away.”
“It doesn’t have to be like that,” he said. “I’m living proof that dialysis doesn’t have to be a living graveyard.”