Foundation sets sights on gamma probe

Grateful: Shuswap Hospital Foundation director Addie Williams knows first-hand the benefits of gamma probe surgery. - James Murray/Observer
Grateful: Shuswap Hospital Foundation director Addie Williams knows first-hand the benefits of gamma probe surgery.
— image credit: James Murray/Observer

Shuswap Hospital Foundation officials are celebrating 25 years of existence by doing what they do best – raising funds to support the best care possible at the hospital and Bastion Place.

This year, the foundation is once again appealing to the community known for its generosity to help secure a gamma probe instrument used in cancer surgery, an infant care centre for the nursery and a bariatric lift unit.

Foundation president Brian Ayotte calls the gamma probe a neat little device that makes good sense.

“The big thing with a lot of tumours, particularly breast cancer and melanomas, is that in  order to define treatment, we need to know if there’s been spread and to do so, we need to find the sentinel node, the lymph node that drains the area of the tumour,” he says. “Back in the old days, if you had breast cancer on the side of the breast, you had to take all the lymph nodes out of the underarm.”

Melanomas required the same kind of very aggressive, destructive, but necessary surgery that resulted in swelling, drainage problems and often intense pain, says Ayotte.

“Now, what they can do  is give a little injection of a radioactive isotope in the area of the tumour,” he says, noting that over the next 12 hours, the isotope is concentrated in the lymph node that drains the area of the tumour and the  gamma probe picks up the radioactivity. “A small incision is made, the surgeon removes the one node... and the tumour.”

A pathologist determines if the cancer has spread to the node, in which case treatment can begin. If there is none in the node, the patient knows the cancer has been removed and there is no need for further treatment.

This was the happy case for longtime foundation director Addie Williams, who recently had gamma probe surgery in Vancouver and raves about the procedure.

She says she went to the Lower Mainland with a diagnosis of invasive cancer.

“We didn’t know where it was, or how far it had gone,” she says, pointing out she showed up at the hospital having had the radioactive injection, followed by a CT scan. “They gave me the picture and I took it to the surgeon the next morning.”

“He made a very small incision in the groin and, with the gamma probe, found exactly where the lymph node was and took it out,” says the retired nurse, noting the procedure was performed on an outpatient basis and the gamma probe cut surgery time in half, and anaesthetic and recovery time by at least 75 per cent.

Back home in four days, Williams says she is excited about raising funds to get one for Shuswap Lake General.

“The old surgery was devastating,” she says. “My gynecologist said ‘it’s so nice to see somebody who has had the surgery and doesn’t look like they’ve had a stroke.’”

Community members can help raise funds in this year’s drive by competing in a Million $ Hole-in-one Competition being run by the local radio station  from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 26 to Saturday, April 30 at Club Shuswap.

There are a number of other ways to contribute, including volunteering to take a shift during the hole-in-one competition, or through staff and individual donations, or make a pledge on the annual EZ-Rock Radio-thon Thursday, May 5 at the Ross Street Plaza.


For more information or to find out how you can help, contact the Shuswap Hospital Foundation at 250-803-4546.



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