EASTPORT, Maine — Blanche McNutt, 89, knows how important the Sunrise County Dialysis Center is.
“I’d be dead without it,” she said.
McNutt, who is in kidney failure, became a patient there shortly after the center opened five years ago.
Fresenius Medical Care North America opened the center in the former Gates Form Fibre Building near Route 190.
Since it opened, the center has provided about 12,000 treatments to 75 patients.
To mark the center’s fifth anniversary, an open house is planned for 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 14. Everyone is welcome.
McNutt said in recent interview that she is grateful the center is nearby, but as with anyone on dialysis, she has good days and bad days.
“I have to talk myself into coming,” she said. “Everybody does, I am sure.”
She arrives at 6 a.m. During the summer months, she drives to the center.
She sits while a machine scrubs her blood clean.
Hours later, a technician unhooks all the tubes.
“I drive myself home,” she said. She repeats the trip two more times a week, 52 weeks a year.
When she arrived at the dialysis center five years ago, she said, she was in bad shape. “I was the worst-looking thing you ever seen,” she said. “I was sicker than a dog.”
Eastport nephrologist Dr. Shahid Mansoor, who is the center’s medical director, kept telling her she would feel better.
“I kept thinking to myself, What day? What week? What month?” she said.
Today, she said, she is better, though not perfect. “I am able to work at home,” she said.
Shopping trips are limited, but she does get out.
“Not long ago, I was able to get a two-hour visit at Wal-Mart [in Calais]. Got out and bought what I wanted, I was thrilled to death,” she said. “In nine years I’ve never done that for many times.”
McNutt is philosophical about life. “This is all there is, then there isn’t any more. Might as well take it and enjoy it,” she said.
Five years ago dialysis patient Ken Hoban, 60, was one of the clinic’s first patients. Before Fresenius opened the clinic, Hoban, who lives in Whiting, spent up to five hours driving to Ellsworth for the same treatments.
And that was well before gasoline was nearly $4 a gallon.
Today, Hoban has had a kidney transplant and lives a full life. His brother William, who lives in New Jersey, donated the kidney in 2004.
“I was one of the lucky ones. My brother gave me a kidney,” he said. “He’s still waiting for the check,” Hoban joked. “I keep telling him it’s in the mail.”
Hoban recalled his trips to Ellsworth and how his life was spent being “tuned” to the weather. There were numerous days when he drove over snowy or icy roads. “Without dialysis you die. You have to have it. There is no way around it,” he said.
Reggie Baskerville is the center’s clinic manager.
When the clinic opened, he said, many of its patients were being treated elsewhere. They did not immediately switch to Eastport. “When we started, they were wary of us because we were new. The facility was new. A lot of them took a little time before they changed to us,” he said.
But when they did change, they stayed. “I think what happened [was that] they realized that because we were small we could be more attentive, that our staff was basically people that they knew,” Baskerville said. “They became pretty comfortable after the first treatment.”
Baskerville said the pace at the clinic is slow. “I like to have time to sit down and talk to the patients every day,” he said. “I think people feel safe and real cared for, and that is always priority number one.”
The center began as a dream in 2001 because of some hard-working Eastport residents. Among them were Omar and Eleanor Norton, who had friends seeking treatment in Ellsworth or Bangor.
Also helping spearhead the drive to get the dialysis center was Eastport City Manager George “Bud” Finch.
Shortly after the center opened, Friends of Sunrise County was set up to help patients with such matters as transportation and medication.
Ken Clark helps with the fund. His wife, Ruth, was one of the first patients and since has died.
He said that once, when a patient’s car broke down, money from the fund was used to rent a car for him to get to Bangor. Clark said the fund also has helped people who had to go to Portland for a transplant.
“If they didn’t have the money to buy the fuel or a place to stay there, this is what this fund is for,” he said.
Donations to the fund can be made through The First bank in Eastport.