WESTMINSTER -- Three times a week, about 35 people come here for a life-saving, time-consuming procedure.
All are victims of kidney disease who must undergo dialysis. For a year now, county patients have been able to find dialysis closer tohome at the Carroll County Dialysis Facility.
During the three-hour procedure, the blood is cleaned of waste products that normally would be processed by healthy kidneys.
Stephanie Nogle, head nurse at the facility, said patients often say they feel like they have beenthrough a washing machine, but all admit they feel better.
FOR THE RECORD - The photo accompanying Wednesday's kidney dialysis story should have said Viola Warner, 75, of Finksburg is hooked up by registered nurse Patty Hartlieb.
Actually, the washing machine analogy is an accurate one, said Dr. Robert Levy, staff nephrologist.
"When kidneys fail, poisons build up in the blood," he said. "The patient's blood is purified as it circulatesthrough an artificial kidney, which pulls urea, other toxins and excess water from the blood, in much the same way dirt is pulled from clothes circulating in a washer."
Located in a suite on the third floor of the Main Street Exchange building, the facility provides a picturesque view of rolling hills and a comfortable, convivial atmosphere for its patients.
"We are just one big, happy family," said Ted McKinney, 66, of Westminster, who has been a patient for about a year.
The drive to Main Street and Route 97 is much shorter for McKinney, who used to travel to Timonium for dialysis.
Carroll Transit System also brings several patients in for treatment and picks them upafterward.
In the waiting room, patients catch up on each other'slives. The conversation continues as they take their seats -- in 16 large reclining rockers -- at the machines.
"Everybody here has the same problem," said Viola Warner, 75, of Finksburg. "We are a sociable group and share our stories."
Nogle said listening to the conversations gives her an ear to what's going in the county.
"The morning group is the liveliest and talks all the time," she said.
Patients can choose from three shifts. Early birds can come in at 5:30 a.m. and are off to daily activities by 8:30. Several, who have 9-to-5jobs, prefer evening hours for dialysis and use their time to catch up on their work.
"We have a teacher who checks papers and a businessman carrying a briefcase," said Nogle.
Warner, who has been on dialysis for 10 years, loves to read and passes her time thumbing through a stack of novels. Nogle said other patients are so at ease theyare able to sleep.
McKinney has high praise for the latest high-tech addition: individual television sets.
"Each of us has our own headphones," he said. "While being dialysized, we can watch whatever we want and keep our minds off the procedure."
Josephine Novak, 75, said the televisions help her keep up with her favorite soap operas.
Before the patients are hooked up to the machines, they step on the scale. A nurse calibrates how much weight the dialysis machines must pull off, said Nogle. She said she has gotten to know her patients so well that she can usually predict how much weight they need to lose.
"I knew one patient had gained a lot of weight," she said. "It showed in his face."
After treatment, patients weigh in again, to make sure they have gotten down to the proper weight.
Each patient then is hooked to his own artificial kidney for removal of excess fluids.
"During the treatment, blood remains outside the body, at a rate of about one pint per minute," she said. "The total blood volume is cleaned about 10 times."
Levy makes rounds evaluating the patients during the dialysis. The facility encourages a positive attitude in the patients, he said.
"I have worked in hospitals with a dialysis facility located in the basement," he said. "When the atmosphere is free-standing and bright, they like coming."
Wilbur Baldwin,73, of Sykesville, a patient since January, said his only complaint is the time involved in the procedure -- it cuts into his activities.He volunteers with cancer patients, gets in a little travel and tries to hunt and fish occasionally.
"Five minutes would be nice," he said. "But most of us have no alternative to this."
Director Charles W. Eliason said the facility also is available to patients traveling through the county. The founder of Community Dialysis Services, hehas developed 51 centers across the United States and England.
Eliason said the need for dialysis is increasing all the time, with about 203,000 people in need of it across the nation. The federal government estimates the cost of dialysis at about $23,000 annually per patient, he said.