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Gamma Knife Patient Story

Gamma Knife Contributes to Successful Medical TreatmentJulian Burgess Jr.

A small spot above his eye wasn't a concern for Julian Burgess Jr. of New Zion, SC until his primary care physician, Dr. Duncan Tyson, M.D. of Pee Dee Family Physicians in Florence, told him he should have it checked. Burgess didn't think much of it. "It was about the size of a match head. I'd had others spots that had been examined and they all were fine."

What seemed to be nothing turned out to be malignant melanoma, and its diagnosis started a two-year path of cancer treatment. After the melanoma was diagnosed and surgically removed, Burgess was watched for any additional occurrences. Unfortunately, about five years later recurrences showed up in the form of tumors on his lungs and in his brain.

Mr. Burgess' oncologist, Dr. Rajesh Bajaj, M.D. of Carolina Healthcare decided that in addition to chemotherapy (in the form of a capsule) for lung tumors that he would like to explore whether Gamma Knife treatment would benefit Burgess for his brain tumors. Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a radically different approach to brain surgery and conventional whole brain radiation that yields extremely positive results. It is not a knife at all, rather an instrument that uses 192 radiation beams, specifically gamma rays, to pinpoint and destroy abnormalities in the brain. It is a one-session, non-invasive, virtually painless procedure that does not require general anesthesia. On the day of treatment, patients like Burgess advance through different phases, including frame placement, imaging, treatment planning and then Gamma Knife radiosurgery. The treatment time depends on the number of tumors treated, and the size and shape of each area being treated. After treatment, most patients are able to go home the same day. 

Could Gamma Knife help Mr. Burgess? Bajaj referred him to neurosurgeon Dr. James Brennan of Florence Neurosurgery and Spine who performs Gamma Knife Radiosurgery at Palmetto Health Richland in Columbia, SC. Dr. Brennan said, "Gamma Knife was the appropriate treatment for him because he had multiple lesions that could be treated without damage to other healthy tissue. With the number of lesions he had, regular surgery would have been prohibitive. Gamma Knife provided us the opportunity to preserve all healthy tissue which also can save vital brain functions that affect things like speech and mobility. Also, if there was another recurrence the treatment could be repeated and that would not be possible with traditional surgery."

Dr. Brennan believes that if Burgess had this kind of cancer 25 years ago he would have had very few options. "Gamma knife offers the latest technology and provides the best outcomes for patients like him. Although, it is not an option for every patient, there are many patients who can utilize this minimally invasive outpatient procedure that does not require an incision, lowers the risk of infection and allows patients to quickly resume normal activity."

Mr. Burgess agrees, saying, "I've seen people who had different treatments who had lots of side effects. I'm grateful this was an option for me."

Burgess also was grateful to not have to commute very far for the procedure. Palmetto Health Richland in Columbia, SC is the first and only hospital in the state to offer Gamma Knife stereotactic radiosurgery to treat malignant and benign brain tumors, arteriovenous malformations (abnormal cluster of blood vessels that could rupture and bleed) and trigeminal neuralgia (specific type of facial pain). The hospital invested about $3.5 million in December 2008 to upgrade to the newest Leksell Gamma Knife® ­— the "Perfexion." Since the hospital began using the Gamma Knife more than 10 years ago, more than 1,900 patients like Burgess have been treated.

Mr. Burgess is happy for the technology and for the collaboration of the physicians to get him the best treatment. He has not had any recurrences of his cancer after three years. Everything looks good which is a relief to him as he spends more time with his twin grandsons. "I feel fine. I'm happy. If I still wake each morning that means I'm okay."