For three years, Ingrid Joath awoke at 4:15 a.m three times a week to drive 40 minutes to Columbia for her dialysis treatments.
Since the Catoctin Regional Dialysis Center opened in Mount Airy in December, Mrs. Joath, 59, is minutes away from the life-saving treatments that replace the function of failing kidneys.
"I'm glad that it's over," Mrs. Joath said of her commuting.
Like Mrs. Joath, the other five patients at the Mount Airy center had to make inconvenient commutes to dialysis centers in Frederick and Rockville.
"There were at least 10 patients in this area who were driving all the way up to Frederick" for dialysis, said Margie Weber, the head nurse at the Catoctin center.
Located at 1502 South Main St., the center is owned by Paul J. Gilligan and is equipped to serve eight dialysis patients at a time.
The patients come for three-hour treatments, three times a week.
THe process, called hemodialysis, removes toxins and excess water from the blood when the kidneys fail to function properly.
"Many people think we work on the kidneys here, but we work on the patient's blood," Ms. Weber said.
When a patient arrives for a dialysis treatment at the Catoctin center, the staff determines how much fluid the patient has gained since the last visit.
Then the patient is hooked up to a dialysis machine, either through an arm graft or a catheter in the chest, and the machine removes and cleans the blood.
"What's unique about this facility is, the patients are like a little social club," Ms. Weber said. "It's a very home-like, folksy place."
Hazel Beale, of Mount Airy, was the Catoctin center's first patient. Her husband used to drive her to a dialysis center in Frederick three times a week.
Now Mrs. Beale, 69, can drive herself the five minutes from her home to the treatment center.
"I love it. It's wonderful," Mrs. Beale said. "It's more social here than up at the other place."
Janie Hariday said the opening of the Catoctin center has made her life -- and her husband's -- much easier.
Mrs. Hariday's husband used to drive her to a dialysis center in Rockville, about half an hour from their Woodbine home in Howard county. He would wait three hours until the dialysis was finished and then take her home.
Going to the Catoctin center has cut the Haridays' commute in half, and the Urban Rural Transportation Alliance of Howard county, which provides transportation for the elderly and disabled, now brings Mrs. Hariday home after her dialysis treatments.
"I like it, everybody's so friendly and willing to help," said Mrs. Hariday, 62. "I go in and feel depressed all the time, but they lift my spirits before I leave there."
In addition to the dialysis treatments, the center's staff gives patients medication to stimulate the body to produce new blood cells, Ms. Weber said.
The center is affiliated with the University of Maryland Medical Center, which performs kidney transplants.
For patients who request it, Ms. Weber sends blood samples to the transplant unit every week to determine if a matching kidney is available.
As a service to the community, the Catoctin Regional Dialysis Center offers free blood pressure screenings on Thursdays and Saturdays from 1 to 3 p.m.