The Midwest Cancer Alliance televideo program helps rural Kansans see specialists without leaving home
July 30, 2013
By Laura Long
Ed Olejniczak has lived in the small Kansas town of Wilson for close to 50 years. He owned a small business, raised his family there, caught countless fish in the town lake and retired there with Berniece, his wife of 54 years.
Ed likes staying put in Wilson. The quaint streets of the small farm town are where he has formed deep friendships and lasting memories. But last year, when tests run during his annual visit to the VA Clinic in Hays, Kan., indicated that he had leukemia, he worried that staying close to home might not be an option.
His doctor in Wilson, Ronald Whitmer, DO, encouraged him to see Mark Fesen, M.D., an oncologist at St. Rose Ambulatory & Surgery Center's Heartland Cancer Center in Great Bend, about 45 minutes outside of Wilson. Fesen looked over Ed's tests and felt the results required further review. He recommended a consultation with an oncologist at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center based in Kansas City.
Normally, this would involve a roundtrip drive of six hours, along with several hours of appointments. Ed and Berniece rarely drive outside of city limits so they would have to rely on family and friends to help out. The Olejniczak's daughter, Elaine Simmons, explains, "Long distance travel is a challenge for my parents. It causes a lot of discomfort and anxiety."
But Fesen had a solution. Because St. Rose is a member of the Midwest Cancer Alliance (MCA), the doctor has access to second opinions and consultations with specialists at KU Cancer Center via interactive televideo (ITV) at the Heartland Cancer Center. So, for Ed and Berniece, a televised meeting with one of the cancer center's key specialists would require just a short drive to Great Bend, instead of a day-long trip with the help of family.
"The Midwest Cancer Alliance was formed to provide medical professionals in rural communities with access to the research and expertise available at The University of Kansas Cancer Center," explains Hope Krebill, executive director of the MCA.
Once Ed agreed to the ITV consultation, an appointment was set up in September of 2012. He and his wife traveled to Great Bend where Cathy Huber, RN, joined them in the Cancer Center conference room equipped with ITV cameras and screens. Within minutes they were in a televised conference call with Abdulraheem Yacoub, M.D., a hematology/oncology specialist at the KU Cancer Center.
"We had cameras and could see each other," explains Ed. "Dr. Yacoub was a very nice young man, very thorough. He spent a good deal of time looking over my records and talking with us."
After a 20-minute conversation, Yacoub's diagnosis confirmed Fesen's suspicions. Ed had polycythemia vera, which causes dizziness, shortness of breath and raises production of red blood cells and platelet levels and can lead to acute myeloid leukemia. The diagnosis required a specific course of treatment and medication. Since fall of 2012, Ed has returned periodically to Great Bend for treatment and check-ups with Fesen. Berniece reports that he is responding well.
"Having that technology at St. Rose was such a relief for us," Berniece says. "It made it a cinch to get the second opinion our doctors recommended. Ed's health has improved and we're getting the care we need close to our hometown, near our friends and most of our family."
Since undergoing treatment, Ed's platelets have dropped dramatically, and his dizziness and breathing problems have diminished.
"It's gratifying to be able to work with fellow oncologists and families all across the state through the MCA and ITV technology," says Yacoub. "You get to talk with all the family and local care givers in one call. You can tell it makes a difference, makes life easier for many people at a difficult time"