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To fund new devices to detect breast cancer earlier, fundraising for hospitals is critical

9:30 am by | 0 Comments

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With just a year under its belt, the development team at Heartland Regional Medical Center already has set its sights on a big project. The group hopes to raise enough funds to purchase a digital tomosynthesis unit.

Pronounced to-moh-SIN-thah-sis, this three-dimensional X-ray machine is the next generation for early detection of breast cancer.

"Every year we have close to 150 breast cancer patients diagnosed," says Kristen Thatcher, breast health nurse navigator at Heartland Regional Medical Center.

That number grew last year to 174.


"You always hear, 'If only they had caught that sooner, the prognosis would have been different,'" says Kristine Gibson, development team leader at Heartland.

Digital tomosynthesis can increase early detection by up to 40 percent, she said. It also can decrease the number of call backs from a standard mammogram because doctors can get a clearer picture the first time around.

According to BreastCancer.org, the digital tomosynthesis takes multiple X-ray pictures of each breast from different angles. The breast is positioned the same way it is in a conventional mammogram with minimal pressure to keep the breast in place. The X-ray tube moves in an arc around the breast while 11 images are taken during a seven-second examination. Then the information is sent to a computer, where it is assembled to produce clear, highly focused three-dimensional images throughout the breast.

And the digital tomosynthesis won't necessarily replace current mammogram technology. The two are very different. It's comparing a circle with a ball in terms of how the two view breast tissue.

"It's something (doctors) were really wanting to get here at Heartland," Gibson says.

But the state-of-the-art piece of technology comes with a $500,000 price tag.

"Unfortunately, we don't have an unlimited budget," Gibson says. "Fundraising truly takes a hospital to that next level."

Currently, St. Luke's East-Lee's Summit and the University of Kansas Medical Center have digital tomosynthesis units. The technology was only recently approved by the FDA and has been on the market for about two years.

"If we could get one here, it's in our backyard," she says of the women in Northwest Missouri. "We want our women served here and not have to go an hour away."

Buchanan County has one of the highest mortality rates in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area, according to research by the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Yet, some women still don't get tested despite statistics showing that one in eight women will have a diagnosis of breast cancer some time in their life.

Gibson says that Heartland reaches more than just the women in St. Joseph. Having the digital tomosynthesis will help treat women who live in the numerous rural communities, too.

"But the cost is huge," she says.

Campaigning began in May with employees and was successful. The Blacksnake Roller Girls donated $4,600 of proceeds from an event as well. Now, Gibson says the development team will start involving the community, reaching out to those that might have an interest in bringing this piece of technology to St. Joseph.

"My philosophy is that you have to support your local hospital," she says. "The most wonderful aspect of fundraising is it truly makes a difference. It takes the organization from great to exceptional."

Heartland isn't alone in establishing an in-house fundraising group. A majority of medical centers around the country do events to raise funds for needed items.

"Everyone has a budget to work with," Gibson says. "So when you only have $24 million to put back into your company and more than $100 million in requests, something gets cut."

The development team looks at those items that get cut and sees if there is an opportunity to raise funds to still get those things at Heartland.

"The goal of the department is to look for programs, technology and services that would benefit the patient. We're able to look at the things that were cut, and all of it goes 100 percent back into getting that here."

For information on the digital tomosynthesis unit or how you can donate, contact Gibson at 271-6720.

Jennifer Hall can be reached at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPHall. ___

[Photo from Flickr user zzzack]

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By Jennifer Hall

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