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SWMC receives $585K grant

Beth rickers/Daily Globe Dr. Bharat Patel, a family medicine physician at Sanford Worthington Medical Center, speaks about the benefits of digital mammography during the announcement of a grant from the Helmsley Trust to the local hospital.

WORTHINGTON -- Sanford Worthington Medical Center (SWMC) will soon be able to offer state-of-the-art mammography services, thanks to a $585,000 donation from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. The grant is one of the largest health care donations in the Worthington community and the largest donation in the history of SWMC.

Digital mammography is currently offered on a mobile basis, with screening mammograms being the only local option for patients. The upgraded equipment will provide diagnostic mammograms, which will enable patients to start cancer treatment and undergo surgery in Worthington.

With approximately one in every eight women running the risk of developing breast cancer over the course of her lifetime and an estimated 10 million women living with diagnosed breast cancer in the United States, the donation could not be more well-received.

"This is an incredible gift for our organization and the people we serve," said Gary Kellen, chairman of SWMC Board of Directors. "This means patients can get the best cancer detection possible without leaving the area."

Although the importance of screening mammography is widely known, Thomas Asfeld, director of Sanford Cancer Services, indicated only 50 percent of people who should get screened do get screened. He hopes this new equipment and convenient location will motivate more women to have their annual mammogram.

"Now that we have digital mammography here permanently in Worthington, the message is to go tell your mom, your sister, your children, your co-worker, 'It's time to get screened. No more excuses. It's here, and it's available to you.'"

The new equipment will complement the radiation and chemotherapy services already in place at SWMC, allowing patients to receive a full continuum of care.

"Here in Worthington we believe that quality health care should be delivered close to home, where it's convenient, where it's comfortable to the patients and their families," expressed Lynn Olson, SWMC chief executive officer.

The Leon M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust strives to aid residents of rural communities by funding innovative projects such as mammography services at SWMC.

"That really is the heart of this trust," explained Olson. "They are trying to bring services to rural areas, in particular health care services that they may not be able to afford on their own."

The grant is part of a larger donation of $2,060,151 that will benefit women in four communities throughout the Sanford Health network.

"Breast cancer has become the most common non-skin cancer and is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the nation," said Dr. Bharat Patel, a family medicine physician at SWMC. "The digital technology will ensure that our patients are receiving the highest level of diagnostic services available for early detection and treatment."

During the announcement of the grant Wednesday morning, local nurse Sandy Ponto shared her story of being diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago and its eventual reoccurance.

"At times I felt like I was in a dark hole. Maybe it was just my heart and soul crying for the woman I thought I was," she said.

Working on the farm made having her annual mammogram a daunting task, and Ponto thought of forgoing the procedure for a more convenient time.

"I, like so many of you, thought I could never get breast cancer," Ponto recollected. "I thought I was protected, but I am here to tell you that no one is safe from cancer."

She chose to have the majority of her treatment conducted in Worthington and credits much of her recovery to the care she received at SMCW.

"I was at home where everyone knew me and wanted the best treatment, support and health care they could give me. I felt so safe in their care."

Today Ponto is cancer-free and hopes that the new digital mammography equipment will help other women detect breast cancer early.

"They know it's women that do all the work, so they want to keep us alive," she joked.

Ponto also promoted the Sage Screening Program, a Minnesota state program that provides free breast and cervical cancer screenings for uninsured and underinsured women.

"It helps us farm women who have high deductibles who aren't coming in for exams. It's a wonderful program," said Ponto

According to Reed Fricke, radiology manager at SMCW, "Statistics show we have an increase of people that are of the age of receiving screening care."

Fricke also noted patients can self-refer for their annual mammogram screening or be referred by their health care provider.

The new equipment is expected to be delivered this spring. Renovations are scheduled to follow to accommodate a patient waiting and changing area.

SWMC also announced the recent $100 million donation from Sioux Falls businessman and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford that will launch a national breast cancer initiative.

While the donations are distinct from each other, Olson reiterated the collaborative effort at SWMC to provide services of detection, prevention and treatment on the local level.

"We are going to have a monumental impact on the lives of women in this community, as well as in our service area," concluded Olson. "We are looking forward to that opportunity."