BLUEFIELD — On Friday afternoon, Dr. Frederick W. Barker, MD brought a group of women together who have benefited from his Intraoperative Radiation Treatment (IROT) to treat their breast cancer. The group is advocating for the procedure to remain available through the Bluefield Regional Medical Center and Princeton Community Hospital merger.
“Technically things have been shut down at this point and that is the problem,” Dr. Barker said. “That is why we need to get together. The machine is there, it is just that these are contractual arrangements. No one is doing anything bad. We just need to make sure that we continue this for the benefit of the folks in the community and we can do that, but it is going to require more than me.”
Bluefield Regional Hospital acquired the machine and equipment to perform IROT under a lease agreement. Dr. Barker has been successfully using the equipment to treat certain breast cancers. However, as per the original contract agreement, there is a three-month lease on the equipment and the company is asking Bluefield Regional to make a decision to either buy the equipment or return it.
“That was all put into the works before we had the situation of Princeton Community Hospital acquiring Bluefield Regional and now we are kind of set in the situation which is perfectly reasonable, that was the original agreement with the company,” Dr. Barker said. “But, why would Bluefield Regional want to buy a piece of equipment when there is something in as far as the sale of the hospital is concerned so that is not likely. Princeton Community Hospital might think it is a really good idea to have it but they cannot do anything about it because they do not own Bluefield Regional.”
The closest facility with IROT available is in Morgantown, according to Dr. Barker. For a long time, breast cancer has been treated via a “whole breast external beam radiation.” The innovation of IROT lies in the delivery of radiation treatment. Dr. Barker removes the cancerous tumor or growth, then radiation is delivered directly into the breast area.
“We know that the scientific community as a whole embraces this technology, we just have not had it until now,” Dr. Barker said. “I have been advocating for us to get it since January of 2014 and we did.”
About ten women, who are patients of Dr. Barker, attended the meeting to advocate for keeping the treatment local. Sharon Brown of Bluefield, Va. spoke about how the efficiency of IROT has changed her life and allowed her to care for her husband. She and her husband were diagnosed with cancer seven months apart. While her husband was being treated in Roanoke, Va., Brown received her first mammogram and the doctors found cancer in her left breast. She sought Dr. Barker for treatment and found, through a dye MRI that she also had cancer in her right breast that the mammogram had not caught.
“On July 8, Dr. Barker removed cancer from the lymph nodes and gave me the treatment for both breasts,” Brown said. “By doing this, it has freed me. I am my husband’s caretaker and given me the opportunity to take my husband to Wytheville, Va. for chemotherapy every other week. It is a miracle. It has given me the treatment, it has given me the opportunity to live my life and help my husband live his.”
Another woman in attendance, Ramona Stanley of Princeton, W.Va. had breast cancer 16 years ago and had to undergo daily chemotherapy treatments for six weeks. She said that during her treatment she was exhausted every evening and the exhaustion lasted for about a year.
“I did not have the opportunity then, but I would have certainly chosen a one-shot deal over six weeks of treatment every day,” Stanley said. “If it is a contract, that was agreed to and now we have a merging of the hospitals, I think time really is of the essence because we do not have a lot of vocal, outspoken advocates for women’s healthcare here and I certainly think that is a major issue and Dr. Barker has been a blessing.”
Charlotte Scott of Kimble, W.Va. was treated by Dr. Barker in March. “That machine was a blessing,” she said. “One treatment and I had no side effects that I know of. No burn, nothing and I got to go right back to work.”
“As a mother of young women, we are some of the older women that are in this room who have experienced this, but as a mother, we need these machines, so that we can give our daughters the opportunity to get the care that we received,” Brown said.
Dr. Barker wants to continue to advocate for the health of the women in Southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia. Even more important than the IROT treatment, he advocates for annual mammograms for women over the age of forty.
“I think it is up to us as a community who want to have this resource available for everybody to come together with a strategy and I bet we can make this thing work,” Dr. Barker said. “I have some pretty good ideas but I cannot do it by myself. I need the help of all of you to be able to accomplish that and I think together, talking with the leadership at Bluefield Regional and the leadership at Princeton Community Hospital, I think we can probably come up with a workable plan.”
Dr. Barker made a website to help educate the community and for the benefit of women’s health. It is called mammocare3D.com.
— Contact Emily Rice at firstname.lastname@example.org