10/17/2014 04:54 EDT | Updated 12/17/2014 05:59 EST

Dialysis clinic opens in Quebec's 2nd-largest Cree community

Diabetics in Mistissini, Que., with kidney failure can now have hemodialysis treatment at their local health centre, instead of having to drive or fly hundreds of kilometres from home.

"It's the happiest day of our lives," said Laurie Longchap.

Her husband Simon spent five months living in Montreal for treatment before being transferred to the hospital in Chibougamau, an hour's drive from Mistissini, to receive dialysis three times a week.

"It was so tiring for him because he was the one driving himself," says Laurie Longchap. "Everybody felt tired."

"When you send someone outside their community it's a different culture, they don't understand the language, never mind eat their own food," says Bella Moses Petawabano, chair of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.

"Yes they may have specialized service, but that's not what will make the difference. What's going to make the difference is that they're home, with their families, in their community, the culture is there, they hear the language and they can eat traditional food." 

The new dialysis unit will serve 12 local patients. The only other Quebec Cree community with dialysis service is 1,000 km away in Chisasibi, where the hospital registered more than 2,400 dialysis treatments last year.

In Eeyou Istchee, one in five adults is living with diabetes. Within 20 years the Cree Health Board predicts that number will double.

"We have people in their 20s and 30s that are now getting diabetes, which means they're going to live longer with diabetes. They're going to have those complications earlier," says Petawabano.

"What's really sad now is we also see young children with diabetes. That's what we are facing."

But Petawabano says diabetes is preventable, as long as everyone puts the effort in now.

"The Cree people knew about prevention a long time ago, before we had doctors and nurses in our territory. That was all we had, was prevention. So why not prevent diabetes?"

The Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay officially inaugurated the new dialysis unit at the Mistissini Community Miyupimaatisiiun Centre on Oct. 8.