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Scanner saves time for patients

When Averi Pino, 27, was undergoing chemotherapy, she sometimes had to drive more than an hour to get to monitoring appointments in Norfolk.

“There were times my husband had to take time off to drive me to my scans because I was so nauseous from the chemo and couldn’t make the drive,” Pino said. “And sitting in the car for that long while I was on chemo, I would often get sunburns.”

On Thursday, Pino, whose Hodgkin’s lymphoma now is in remission, only had to drive four minutes from her Suffolk home to get to an appointment to monitor her progress.

The new schedule for Sentara’s mobile PET/CT scanner includes rotating Thursday visits to Sentara’s Obici and BelleHarbour locations. The first visit was Thursday at Obici.

“The accessibility for our patients in Western Tidewater is crucial,” said Dr. Victor Archie, Sentara radiation oncologist. “It gives us the ability to do things on par with other Sentara hospitals. No person should have to leave to get the treatment they need.”

Previously, cancer patients who need the services of the PET/CT scanner, which gives doctors the most detailed and technical information using the most non-invasive procedures, would have to travel over bridges or through tunnels to Norfolk, Virginia Beach, or other Sentara locations that housed the mobile unit.

“As soon as I got here three years ago and began to understand the geography of the area, I realized why people don’t like to travel to get their treatment,” Archie said. “I became acutely aware of the problem when I had a patient, who was a widow, refuse to have the tests because she couldn’t drive out there.”

While other tests can be administered instead, Archie explained that the PET/CT scan is preferable.

“It allows us to get the most accurate staging information that you can’t see with routine CT scans or MRIs,” he said. “It allows us to be precise with our radiation, as well. If we know the highest concentration of the disease, we can tailor our treatment.”

In order to get the Suffolk hospitals in the equipment’s rotation schedule, a petition for a Certificate of Public Need was made to the state, which approved the request in January.

“Because we’re a COPN state, the state first has to determine whether the services are needed and take a look at the population,” Archie explained.

With the equipment now closer to home for many Suffolk and western Tidewater cancer patients, doctors and administrators hope to provide more convenient services for those already using it and more accurate information for those who haven’t been able to utilize the services.

“We’re hoping patients won’t have to travel so much,” said Heidi Ambrose, coordinator of the mobile unit. “We’re coming to them to bring them these services.”

“If it’d been here a year ago, it’d have saved me so much time and many sick car rides,” Pino said. “I love the fact that it’s here now. It’s a magnificent piece of equipment.”