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Gift to be used to buy CyberKnife for Bristol hospital

Al Musella's Comments: (This is his personal views and are not necessarily the views of the Musella Foundation!)


Posted on: 10/18/2002

Oct 18, 2002

Gift to be used to buy CyberKnife for Bristol hospital

Bristol Herald Courier

Dr. Matthew Wood, left, talks with J.D. Nicewonder as Bart Hove, president of Bristol Regional Medical Center, looks on Thursday morning following a BRMC announcement of a $2 million donation by Nicewonder and his wife Lorraine. (Jason Davis)

A couple's $2 million gift will put Bristol Regional Medical Center on the cutting edge of high-technology cancer treatment, officials said Thursday.

The funds will purchase a CyberKnife -- a computer-guided radiation delivery system that targets tumors with pinpoint accuracy while sparing healthy tissue.

"We will be one of the first hospitals in the nation to acquire the CyberKnife," said Wayne Kirk, chairman of the board of directors of Bristol Regional and other hospitals in the region. "This will revolutionize cancer care. It will save lives of people in this region."

The only other CyberKnife on the East Coast is at Georgetown University -- one of seven now in use in the nation. Two others, including the one for Bristol, are expected to be built in the coming year, officials said.

Officials of Wellmont Health System, which runs the hospital, unveiled their plans to acquire the CyberKnife at a press conference at the hospital Thursday morning.

The $2 million donation also was announced Thursday. The gift from J.D. and Lorraine Nicewonder of Bristol Virginia, who were present for the announcement, is the largest in the history of the health system, officials said.

Nicewonder said he and his wife decided to donate to the hospital after she underwent back surgery at there a few months ago. It was his wife's neurosurgeon, Dr. Matt Wood, who told him about the CyberKnife, Nicewonder said.

"I was discussing with him their needs," he said. "The CyberKnife was on the top of the list. When he said there were less than a dozen of them in this country, I thought, we need one."

The Nicewonders moved to Bristol two decades ago from Dickenson County, where J.D. Nicewonder was in the coal business. He said he owned mines in Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia but is now involved in other business ventures.

Nicewonder said he has supported the hospital financially in the past but not to this extent.

"I hope this can save lives or help the community," he said.

The news of the couple's gift drew enthusiastic applause from hospital doctors, including Ben Cowan, an oncologist who has been practicing at Bristol Regional for 19 years.

The acquisition of the CyberKnife will take the hospital to the cutting edge of cancer treatment, Cowan said. The hospital's cancer center already treats about 1,000 patients a year, and that number now could grow, he said.

The CyberKnife is a technological advance on a similar, more widespread, system called the Gamma Knife, which has been in use for five to 10 years, Cowan said. The closest Gamma Knife treatment centers are in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Charlottesville, Va.

The CyberKnife is described as a stereotactic radiosurgery device. It uses computer-guidance -- like that used by the Pentagon to guide weapons -- to target tumors with up to 100 small beams of radiation.

It has a robotic arm that moves around the patient and does not require the patient to be immobilized like earlier systems, officials said.

"It enhances our ability to deliver a highly focused and precise beam (to a tumor) and spare the surrounding normal tissue," Cowan said. "That tends to be the biggest problem with radiation therapy -- sparing the normal tissue."

The device can be used to treat many types of tumors, including those of the brain, liver and prostate, Cowan said. Some of the tumors would have been inoperable in the past, he said.

Hospital officials will ask the state for a certificate of need to acquire the CyberKnife in the next few months, said Bart Hove, Bristol Regional's president.

Once that is approved, construction of an area to house the CyberKnife will begin, Hove said. The device could be in operation by the fall or winter of 2003, he said.

"This will be the seed of a true center of excellence in radiation oncology," Wood, the neurosurgeon, said.

Andrea Hopkins may be reached at or (276) 645-2534.

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