By Joe Lowe
Three months before her thirty-third birthday, April Seiders noticed a walnut-sized lump in her right breast. Reeling from the discovery, the lifelong Manassas resident scheduled an ultrasound at Novant Health UVA Prince William Medical Center (formerly Prince William Hospital), a few miles from her home. Several moments into the procedure, the technician burst into a flurry of note-taking, and Seiders knew something was wrong.
The next day her fears were confirmed. She was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer.
With a full-time job at Miller Toyota in Manassas and a six-year-old daughter to care for, the full implications of a cancer diagnosis were dizzying. And with no family history of cancer, Seiders had no experience with the disease and little idea of how to go about treatment.
But one thing was clear: staying near home was a priority. Traveling to hospitals in Baltimore, Washington D.C., or even Fairfax would only add more space between her and the things most important in her life.
“If I was going to be sick,” Seiders explained, “I wanted to be near home, near my family and near the hospital.” Several days later, she and her husband met with Dr. Mark Bartolozzi, a surgeon with Novant Health UVA in Manassas, to talk about treatment.
“Most of the visit is a blur, but I remember Dr. Bartolozzi looking at me, saying, ‘It’s going to be alright, April, we’re going to grow old together,’” said Seiders. “And he was right.”
With the help of her husband, she found a team of supportive, experienced doctors who successfully treated her cancer. She has now been cancer free for 15 years.
Seiders was lucky, but the first-rate medical care she received in Prince William isn’t unique. The area is home to nationally recognized and award-winning hospitals and treatment centers, offering residents a spectrum of basic services and dozens of medical specialties, many of them developed in response to specific community needs.
“Ninety-five percent of patients’ health needs can be resolved locally within the Prince William area,” said Dr. Merdod Ghafouri, an osteopathic doctor who has worked for 14 years in Gainesville and Haymarket.
The presence of these facilities has proved a major asset for the community and its residents. Instead of traveling outside the greater Prince William area, residents are finding more of the advanced medical services they need are only a short drive away.
In Seiders’ case, it was a matter of reaching out to the local hospital. “I didn’t know what kind of services were available in Prince William, but when I looked, I found there was plenty of help,” she said.
Cancer is the leading cause of death in the Prince William area, but local doctors are fighting back. And data from the National Cancer Institute shows that Prince William is moving in the right direction. Its age-adjusted death rate for cancer dropped 17 percent between 2005 and 2013.
This positive trend is almost certainly due in part to the advanced treatments and specialized physicians that have become increasingly available.
For example, Novant Health UVA Health System Lake Manassas Cancer Center, located outside of Gainesville, offers advanced radiation oncology services for 14 types of cancer and is nationally recognized by the American College of Radiology.
Novant Health UVA Health System also operates a Breast Center in Haymarket, offering routine breast imaging services in a spalike environment. The center is staffed by experienced all-female technologists, specifically trained in breast care.
“Our radiologists, oncologists and breast surgeons work together as a team to offer a collaborative multidisciplinary approach to develop a treatment plan tailored to a patient’s cancer diagnosis,” said Dr. Sangeeta Srivastava, director of breast imaging services at Novant Health UVA Health System’s Breast Center.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Seiders underwent chemotherapy treatment for two years at Novant Health UVA. During that time, multiple medical emergencies sent her rushing to the emergency room. Yet she refused to give up her job and was never forced to use short-term medical leave or miss a paycheck.
“Being able to work during my treatment was important to me. I knew that leaving my job would be like going down a black hole, and I wasn’t going to go down that path,” she said. Seiders points to local treatment as being key to her ability to work during that time. And with the hospital only a fiveminute drive from her workplace, she shuttled between the two frequently, maintaining a daily connection to life outside of the treatment center.
The Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center, located in Woodbridge, is also a leader in cancer treatment. The hospital was the first in Virginia to offer breast cancer patients intraoperative radiation therapy, which is administered as a single dose during breast cancer surgery.
“Sentara has been working to bring world-class healthcare services to the Prince William and surrounding communities so that our community members can stay local for their healthcare,” explained Kathie Johnson, COO, Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center.
In recent years, senior citizens have moved away from Fairfax and other metropolitan areas toward the greener pastures–and golf courses–of Washington D.C.’s suburbs, including greater Prince William. As their numbers have increased in Prince William, so has the necessity of meeting their medical needs. In response, Prince William’s medical community has invested in expanded and improved heart care services.
“Cardiovascular care has become a primary need in Prince William area,” said Dr. Ghafouri. “As a result Inova offers residents specialized heart and vascular treatments.”
The nonprofit health organization has a staff of 14 dedicated cardiologists in Prince William, specializing in angioplasty surgery and stent placements. Health data supports the wisdom of Inova’s decision to invest in heart care. Between 2011 and 2014, hospitalizations due to heart failure grew in Prince William, and the vast majority of those admitted were 65 or older.
Inova isn’t the only healthcare provider to focus on heart disease. In 2011, the Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center opened up a heart and vascular center in Gainesville, and it began offering electrophysiology services last year. The center has won several honors, including the American Heart Association’s 2015 Lifeline Bronze Award.
Novant Health UVA in Manassas also treats a range of heart conditions and offers a cardiac lab with EKG and echocardiogram testing. In addition, there are three individual practices in greater Prince William: Clarient, Prince William Cardiology Associates and Mount Vernon Cardiology.
With a life expectancy rate of 79.5 years, residents in Prince William enjoy some of the longest lives in the country, and one reason may be that quality health care begins at birth. Sentara Medical Center in Woodbridge is striving to make it even better.
The nonprofit healthcare provider partnered with the division of neonatology at Children’s National Health System in 2015 to improve neonatal care in Prince William. The effort has led to national recognition, and Sentara’s neonatal division is now ranked among the top 10 in the country by U.S. News and World Report.
“The goal of this partnership is to provide cutting-edge care for sick newborns in an environment that allows considerate and compassionate relationships with our patients,” said Dr. Billie Lou Short, chief of neonatology at Children’s National.
The advanced care offered within Sentara’s neonatal intensive care unit has, to a large degree, erased the need for families to travel to Children’s National in Washington, D.C., or beyond— and that is a major advantage to new mothers and fathers in Prince William. It’s also part of Sentara’s commitment to the community.
While the need for orthopedic care has increased as Prince William’s population ages, the benefits of improved orthopedic care are shared by nearly all residents.
In 2014, Sentara opened an advanced ortho-joint center in Woodbridge, specializing in hip and knee joint replacements. Last year, Sentara expanded the center’s services by offering stemless shoulder replacement, a first for residents in the Washington, D.C. region. The procedure, which reduces bone loss, is designed to save time and reduce post-surgical complications. It is primarily an alternative for younger, more active patients seeking relief from osteoarthritic shoulder pain.
“I’m excited about this new technology because it provides me an innovative new option that I can discuss with my patients who suffer from shoulder arthritis,” said Dr. Cyrus Press, who is the first surgeon to perform stemless shoulder replacement in Northern Virginia.
Prince William is also home to numerous private orthopedic practices. Northern Virginia Orthopedic Specialists, a practice based in Haymarket and Manassas, specializes in sports medicine and offers robotic arm-assisted procedures for partial knee and total hip replacements.
The Joy of Being Close to Home
Chemotherapy wasn’t the end of April Seiders’ cancer treatment. She later had 22 lymph nodes removed before undergoing further surgeries and radiation treatment. Despite the grueling marathon of treatment, she has nothing but praise for the local care she received.
“My doctors went out of their way to be kind,” she said. “I’m really grateful we have such excellent medical care available in Prince William.”
But Seiders wasn’t the only one to benefit from receiving treatment in Manassas; her continued presence near home was invaluable to her husband and, especially, her daughter who was in kindergarten at the time.
“During treatment, I ate lunch with my daughter every day,” Seiders remembered fondly.
Joe Lowe (email@example.com) lives with his wife and daughter in Gainesville. After working for many years with the National Park and Forest Services, he is now employed with an environmental nonprofit in Washington, D.C.