Year-long fundraiser for new system at Whidbey General Hospital hits goal

With a community coming together, there’s nothing it can’t accomplish.

At the beginning of the year, the Whidbey General Hospital Foundation’s board of directors set a fundraising goal of $320,000: $230,000 for a Breast MRI Scan System and $90,000 for a biopsy machine for the hospital.

That goal became a reality last week.

“People in this community step up for this hospital because it’s their hospital,” said Laura Blankenship, Whidbey General Hospital Foundation executive director.

Many businesses and organizations helped, and the foundation received donations from 50 cents to thousands of dollars.

Blankenship said there was a mother and son who donated the smallest amount because it was all they had to give.

“You just don’t know how breast cancer has affected all these people and touched their lives,” Blankenship said.

The new scan system and biopsy equipment will complement the $1 million Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) equipment the hospital already has.

The hospital board of commissioners approved the purchase of the new equipment Oct. 14.

“This can be one of the best programs in the state, and even beyond that,” said Hank Hanigan, Whidbey General Hospital’s chief operating officer.

Hanigan said the staff is already being trained, so when the equipment arrives in about 60 days, they will be ready to go.

Dr. Nancy Neubauer is already familiar with the equipment, and Dr. Robert Hawkins is newly trained.

“Hospitals this size, a rural hospital like us, just don’t do things like this,” Hanigan said. “We can be a model.”

Dr. Bruce A. Porter and Hawkins have been instrumental in this process, Hanigan said.

Dr. Porter has more than 21 years of experience in this field, and has been advising the hospital through this process.

This technology was originally only available in larger hospitals, but now it is making its way out to community facilities.

This new system is not for the general population, Porter said. It is not meant to replace mammograms or the clinical exams most all women receive. It is for certain groups, such as high risk patients who have a family history of breast cancer, or for those who have a known breast cancer.

Women ages 40 or older should have mammograms every one or two years.

Those who are younger, and are at risk for breast cancer should ask their healthcare professional if they should start having mammograms early, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

If a patient needs additional testing, this is where the Breast MRI Scan System comes into play.

Porter said when a patient is about to be scanned, the dedicated breast coil fits around them and allows technicians to take a 3D image.

While in the scanner the patient is injected with contrast, also known as gadolinium. This makes any abnormalities more visible for physicians to spot. The cancer gets bright right away and then dissipates quickly, while other tissues slowly brighten over time.

The 3D image taken allows them to view all angles, making it so tumors can no longer hide, Porter said.

If anything is detected that the doctor thinks should be investigated more, patients can have a biopsy immediately without having to make another appointment, Hanigan said.

The guided biopsy can be used around the MRI equipment, Porter said. The instrument used will target the area of concern, leave a tiny metal marker so they can find that particular spot later. After the procedure is over, the patient will only have a nick on their skin. It is much less intrusive than a surgical biopsy, Porter said.

“We can target something the size of a caper, or a small pea,” Porter said.

One of the best features of the new technology is its very high negative predictive value, meaning the results are very reliable if they are normal, so the at-risk patient can have peace of mind until the next exam, Porter said.

For some of these women, they want to be able to breast feed their babies when they have them, or just be put at ease and not be afraid that something might have been missed.

“The hospital is ahead of the curve on this technology instead of falling behind,” Porter said.

Blankenship said there were other benefits to having this on the island.

For residents, their support system is here, whether it’s their family or friends, they have that close to home.

By providing this service, they can stay here without having to drive for hours, or take a ferry. When it’s potentially scary news, no one wants to wait around and find out the results, she said.

“We can’t be everything, but we can do a lot of things well, and there are just some things we can do better,” Blankenship said.


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