Radiation vault

Crews assemble the temporary radiation vault in the parking lot of Community Howard Regional Health in September.

What do you get when you put together a 20,000-pound lead door, over 200,000 gallons of sand and a 350-ton crane?

One very unique building.

That building is a temporary radiation treatment vault that was installed earlier this month in the parking lot of Community Howard Regional Health. It allows patients to continue to receive local cancer treatments while the hospital installs a new radiation-therapy machine.

George Mast, the communications manager for the hospital, said Community Howard paid $1 million to lease and install the vault so patients wouldn’t have to travel to Indianapolis or another hospital to get treatments.

He said some patients are required to receive radiation therapy every day for up to six weeks, and forcing them to drive somewhere outside of Kokomo would have created a serious obstacle.

“It’s a big investment for the hospital, but we thought it was worth it for our patients’ experience and to keep them with the care team they love,” he said.

That’s why Community Howard in September brought in the temporary building, which came in four pieces and required a construction team to install thick footers in the hospital’s parking lot to hold the weight.

Then 70 truck-loads of sand were hauled in and placed inside all the walls and the roof to contain the radiation created by the equipment, known as a linear accelerator. The room housing the machine is also shut with a 20,000-pound lead door to keep in the radiation.

And last Friday, cancer patients started using the temporary vault to receive their treatments. The facility comes fully furnished with pre-commissioned accelerator, a reception area, waiting room, office space and restrooms.

Jeff Fisher, a supervisor with Hayes Brothers Inc., which was contracted to oversee the project, said there are only two temporary radiation treatment vaults in the U.S., and one of them is now in the parking lot of Community Howard.

Cara Farkas, the hospital’s medical physicist, said they were lucky to get the vault and save patients from driving out of town. She said the hospital has been discussing the installation of a new linear accelerator for over two years, and renting one of the vaults was the best option to keep patients’ treatments in Kokomo while crews installed the machine.

Once the new radiation equipment is installed inside the hospital, Community Howard will be able to treat more kinds of cancer, including small brain lesions, in less time. The new machine represents a $3.1 million investment and will take about three months to install, Farkas said.

After that, the vault will be dissembled and then shipped to a hospital in New York state.

Farkas said the whole process comes with a high price tag, but it’s worth it to ensure patients are getting the latest and most sophisticated treatments on the market.

“It’s pretty awesome the hospital decided to do this,” she said. “ … This technology is hard to keep up with financially, but we’re doing it here at Community Howard, for sure.”

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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Carson Gerber is a reporter for the Kokomo Tribune and can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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