Under a huge heated tent packed with an estimated 1,000 guests, Anne Arundel Medical Center celebrated yesterday the opening of its new breast center, billed as a comprehensive diagnostic, treatment and education facility to meet the needs of breast cancer patients.
The center is housed on the hospital's new campus in the six-story Sajak Pavilion, named after longtime "Wheel of Fortune" game-show host Pat Sajak and his wife, Lesly. The couple, who live in Severna Park, donated $1 million to the breast center.
The Sajaks and other major donors toured the center for the first time yesterday before the dedication.
"I think it's a great place," Pat Sajak said. "They've worked hard to make patients feel that they're not being dumped in a medical facility. It offers comfort beyond the medical aspect."
Although breast cancer has not touched their immediate family, the Sajaks said they are aware of the toll the disease exacts. When hospital officials met with them last year about plans for the center, Lesly Sajak said the decision to become involved was an easy one.
"At the first meeting, we both looked at each other and said, `This is a great idea,'" she said yesterday.
"Whatever celebrity cachet comes along is helpful, just in terms of getting the word out," said Pat Sajak, noting that people mention the center to him when he's out and about in the area.
"I get stopped in the grocery store parking lot all the time," he said.
The Sajak Pavilion will house a diabetes center, a wellness center and other ambulatory health services. Annapolis residents Hillard and Karolyn Donner also contributed $1 million to the pavilion project.
The breast center, which opened in 1995 at the hospital's downtown location, has increased its space from 1,000 to 7,000 square feet by moving to the first floor of the new $23 million facility.
Hospital officials say the center's $500,000 digital mammography machine - which is designed to provide faster and more accurate images than standard mammography equipment provides - is one of the few in the state and the only one in a private hospital.
The center has examination and consultation rooms. Treatment decisions are based on weekly multidisciplinary "tumor board" meetings, which involve a patient's caregivers - oncologist, radiologist, pathologist, nurse, surgeon, social worker, psychologist and plastic surgeon.
"The radiologist will bring the mammographies, the pathologist will bring pathology reports, and we have all those exams available to us, and we discuss as a team what is the best course for this woman," said Catherine Copertino, a nurse and clinical administrator for oncology.
The center has a reminder program, in which caregivers send e-mails and birthday cards reminding women to examine their breasts and have yearly mammograms. In its first year, the breast center registered more than 3,000 women in the reminder program.
The center recently mailed calendars with inspirational messages from local cancer survivors.
"The goal is to encourage other women not to be afraid to come in and get mammograms," Copertino said. "Early detection is the best way to fight this disease."
Therapeutic environments for women and their families are also available at the center.
"It's a soothing place. The colors are mauve, sienna and beige," said Copertino. "If there's a distressing situation, there are private rooms where patients can go to and take whatever time they need."
Anne Arundel Medical Center's new The breast center continues a focus on women's health services among area hospitals that began about 10 years ago, said Nancy Fiedler, a senior vice president of the Maryland Hospital Association.
In 1997, Anne Arundel County had the third-highest rate of breast cancer among Maryland's 24 jurisdictions, according to the county Health Department's most recent statistics. The rate in Anne Arundel was 152 cases per 100,000 women, compared with the statewide rate of 124 per 100,000. But in 1998, the county's breast cancer mortality rate of 24 deaths per 100,000 was slightly lower than the state's, according to the most recent figures.
Evelyn Stein, the county Health Department spokeswoman, said the county's high incidence rate shouldn't be seen as entirely negative.
"It's kind of good news because women are finding out earlier that they have it, and there is treatment that is effective," Stein said.