In the sunshine outside South Nassau Communities Hospital's rebuilt outpatient dialysis center in Oceanside, two friends stood holding hands Friday.
Lorraine Falzone, 61, of West Hempstead, and Marny Schiffman, 79, of Oceanside, were among dozens of patients and dignitaries who gathered to celebrate the reopening of the Oceanside Road center.
Forty inches of water from superstorm Sandy flooded the 10,000-square-foot facility on Oct. 29. Hospital staff scrambled to find places at other dialysis centers throughout Nassau for its 136 patients, all of whose kidneys don't work and rely on treatments three times a week to stay alive.
The building had to be gutted and its 18 dialysis suites rebuilt at a cost of about $4 million, said Andrew Triolo, the hospital's assistant vice president of design, development and construction.
Schiffman was sent to a dialysis center in Bellmore, and Falzone went to one in Hempstead. They had seen each other only once since October -- at a hospital holiday party -- but had kept in touch over the phone.
Friday's's reunion was sweet. The diabetics became friends when Falzone had to start dialysis in 2010. For the first six months, she said, "I cried every day."
Schiffman, on dialysis for almost six years, helped her through that time, Falzone said.
The staff and others at the center, Falzone said, are like family. "You come three days a week and have to try to lead as normal a life as possible."
Lorraine Hardy, 51, of Uniondale, who has been on dialysis since 2005 due to hypertension, said she was sent to a center closer to home -- where she received good care. But she, too, missed fellow patients and staff at the Oceanside site.
"It's wonderful," she said. "All our family are back."
Return to normalcy was a constant refrain Friday.
Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein, Nassau County commissioner of health, said the reopening was "not only important for the physical health of the community, but for the mental health of the community."
Hempstead Mayor Wayne J. Hall Sr., 66, who has a condition in which the capillaries in the kidneys become progressively scarred, has been on dialysis for about 16 months. After Sandy, he went to a dialysis center in Lynbrook and then to the South Nassau hospital's inpatient center. He said he "loved being back."
"I feel more at ease here," he said. "You know the people, and you build that relationship."