Linda Zima has more than one family.
In addition to her husband and three children, she counts her patients and co-workers at two kidney dialysis centers as her family.
At DaVita PDI Johnstown and DaVita PDI Ebensburg, there is the sense that she is with family due to the concern staff and patients have for one another.
Zima, who splits her time between both DaVita centers, was one of the local pioneers when dialysis first came to Johnstown in the 1970s.
A 1969 graduate of the former Mercy Hospital School of Nursing, she was working in the intensive-care unit of the former Mercy Hospital when she was asked to learn a new procedure to treat kidney-failure patients.
She and a couple of other nurses studied the technique at what is now UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh.
In 1974, they were the first nurses to help open the first dialysis center in the Johnstown area at Mercy Hospital.
“We opened with one patient who had been traveling to Pittsburgh three times a week for treatment,” Zima said.
“It was really a needed service.”
The population of patients kept growing and so did the size of the dialysis unit, Zima said.
She worked at Mercy until 1995, when she went to work in the former Lee Hospital dialysis unit.
Lee’s unit then was sold to a private company, which in turn sold it to DaVita.
The name DaVita is Italian for he or she gives life, Zima said.
“It was the name chosen by the company because we are giving life to these people.”
DaVita, with centers worldwide, has more than 1,900 of them in the United States, she said.
With dialysis, patients generally feel better and can lead a productive life, enjoy their families, travel and do other activities, Zima said.
“Some people still work and that’s important because it makes them feel productive in society,” she said.
“It’s just generally rewarding to see people doing so well and feeling better and enjoying themselves.”
One of Zima’s duties is teaching patients to perform a type of dialysis that can be done at home.
Zima teaches them everything that they need to know from ordering supplies to taking their blood pressure during eight training sessions.
“The home treatment removes waste products from the body the same as the dialysis machine at the center,” she said.
“However, they still need to come in twice a month for an examination to make sure the treatments are being effective,” she said.
Working at the Johnstown and Ebensburg offices is like being with your family, she said.
“We know everything about their children, their vacations and other parts of their lives. “We share their joys and sorrows.”
When you run into a patient at a shopping center or restaurant, it’s like meeting a friend, she said.
“It’s a joyous time when a patient receives a kidney transplant because they no longer have the need for dialysis,” Zima said.
“Two of my patients have received transplants in the past four months.
“It just makes you feel good when they do well and are able to accomplish their goals.”
All the nurses, doctors and other members of the staff do a fantastic job, said Zima, who has 19 patients at the Johnstown office and six in Ebensburg.
There are 100 patients between both centers, she said.
Debi Hubbard, administrator at DaVita centers in Johnstown, Ebensburg and Somerset, said that Zima has the same passion and commitment for patients today as she did when she started 40 years ago.
“She always is upbeat and strives to provide the highest quality of care to her patients. She is an asset to our home program.”
Dolores Kolesar, a co-worker and friend of Zima, said Zima is compassionate.
“I feel that Linda envisions her patients as family and displays deep pride in their transition from feelings of fear and frustration to total independence with their prospective choice of home therapy,” she said.
Maureen Barron, who has been a friend of Zima since the two were freshmen together in nursing school, said she worked with Zima in dialysis for several years.
“It is complex nursing,” she said.
“You have to be passionate about it and compassionate. You end up becoming a part of that patient’s life.”
There are ups and downs with a patient with a chronic illness, she said.
“I think Linda stays the steady course, and she won’t take any credit for anything that she does.
“She’s a true professional. A true role model.”
Zima resides in Westmont with her husband, Fran. They have three children, Leslie, of Florida; and Matthew and Jonathan, both of Johnstown.
Frank Sojak is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/FrankNews10.