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Still side by side




Wednesdays normally are dialysis days for Hays residents John and Joan Gross.

Not today.

The Hays couple will get to enjoy Christmas together without having to go through the three-hour treatments that can leave them drained of energy.

Not that they complain. Dialysis has become a routine part of the week for the 84-year-old John Gross and his 83-year-old wife.

They both suffer from kidney failure and spend three days a week at Fresenius Medical Care in Hays for treatment.

The Grosses' regular treatment days are Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but that rotation was changed to Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday this week to avoid treatments on Christmas Day.

They know it might sound strange to some, but even being hooked up to dialysis machines is a special time together for the couple -- who celebrated their 65th anniversary during treatment Nov. 26.

The nurses heard about the big date beforehand and treated the couple to a small party, complete with a cake and balloons.

"That was such a surprise, just fantastic," Joan said. "That meant so much."

The Grosses said they are blessed they live in Hays, where they only have to travel a few blocks for treatment.

After spending most of their married life in the Denver area, where they raised their four daughters, they decided to move to a small town in retirement in the mid-1990s.

"We saw an ad in the paper for a house in Hill City," Joan said of the small northwest Kansas town that became their choice of retirement. "We fell in love with it."

John, confined to a wheelchair, smiled while remembering those days when both were healthy. But he let his wife do the talking.

"He always said that with a household of women, he never got a chance to say anything," Joan said with a laugh.

The couple were so comfortable in their home in Hill City they never traveled much.

"We enjoyed our home there and our friends, and I was a big gardener," Joan said.

That all changed when John was diagnosed with kidney disease approximately three years ago.

"I caught it from her," John said, glancing toward his wife.

"Oh, it's not contagious," Joan quipped, adding, "besides, you got it first."

Joan would drive John to Hays three days a week from Hill City for his dialysis treatments. Joan would set up shop in the waiting room at the Fresenius clinic, keeping herself busy reading and visiting with family members of other patients.

"We'd sit around and chat, or go to Walmart and shop," Joan said. "You get close to a lot of people there."

When John started falling at home, they looked for a nursing home near Hays, and Russell was the closest at the time. So for a year, Joan's three-times-a-week trip from Hill City to take John to dialysis treatments was even longer.

"I think that's one of the hardest things I've ever done," Joan said of their separation. "To be together as long as we had been, it was different to be separated after all those years."

So Joan decided to move to an apartment in Hays, where she could be nearer John. After approximately a year, the family moved John to Via Christi Village in Hays. Joan's apartment in Centennial Towers is just blocks away from Via Christi.

That works well for the couple, especially since Joan was diagnosed with kidney disease about a year ago and now requires dialysis treatments, too.

While John isn't near as talkative as his wife, his one-liners are well understood as he looks at Joan with loving eyes.

The couple has family visit often, as their daughters take turns coming to Hays at least once a month.

Two of the Gross sisters spent Thanksgiving with their parents, and all four will visit at one time or another throughout the Christmas season.

"Just to have the family together, and to have John here, that will be great," Joan said.

Then, Thursday, it's back to their routine schedule.

Sometimes, the four-plus hours spent on dialysis pass quickly for the Grosses, especially if they can catch a nap.

"We sleep," Joan said. "Well, he sleeps."

John chuckled, but as usual, didn't say a word.

"We sit side by side," Joan added. "Actually, we can hold hands. We do a lot of that, holding hands."