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Cancer tower gets long-awaited welcome, call to arms

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The new Cancer Center at Vidant on March 16, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)


By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Hundreds of Vidant employees, financial contributors and those touched directly and indirectly by eastern North Carolina’s deadliest disease gathered Friday at the new Vidant Cancer Center to celebrate the completion of what now is the regional epicenter of care.

In a series of speeches that preceded a ribbon-cutting at the entranceway of the Eddie and Jo Allison Smith Cancer Tower, Vidant administrators, medical VIPs and a representative of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department thanked those who contributed time, talent and the first $43 million in accumulated donations toward the $174 million price tag to raise the building. Each, in turn, issued a rallying cry to the people of the region and a vow that the battle engaged inside will not end until cancer is conquered.

The 418,000-square-foot, six-story facility that sits facing its twin edifice, the East Carolina Heart Institute, features 96 inpatient rooms, 60 infusion areas with a view of outdoor healing gardens and 58 different clinics centered on patient care. The theme throughout the building features flowering trees, calming color palates and artwork of soothing nature scenes and North Carolina flowers. An image renewal center provides access to wigs, prosthetics and compression sleeves and garments. A resource center offers additional services to patients and families, including psychotherapy, support groups and complementary therapies.

Dr. Emmanuel Zervos, executive director of the new center, said he has mixed emotions as he prepares to lead the work that will be done there.

“I am elated and filled with anxiety on this day, the culmination of a six-year process,” Zervos said. “The anxiety stems from knowing that now we have to do what we said we would do within these walls. But for the first time, we have a physical healing space that matches our people and our processes and represents the level of care we’ve been delivering in Greenville for a number of years.”

Zervos said the center’s short-term goal is to fill critical vacancies in care provision, recruit people to consolidate and coordinate service lines for disease sites and standardize care throughout the Vidant system, pushing the needle for better cancer outcomes across the region.

“There’s a reason we’ve been challenged with this disease for so long; this is not an easy task,” Zervos said. “Part of the solution is this place. The other part is the people this center will attract to accomplish that.”

Vidant Health CEO Dr. Michael Waldrum thanked everyone who made the facility possible and all who were about to fill it to do the “hard but meaningful” work inside to help the 7,500 people and their families affected each year by cancer in eastern North Carolina.

“It is a massive challenge,” Waldrum said. “It’s not just about the caregivers, the builders and the (financial supporters). It really is about our communities. I have been so struck by the sense of community and people coming together with the dedication to find unique and important solutions for very difficult challenges. To me, this building is a symbol of who we are in eastern North Carolina.”

Name plates abound at rooms throughout the center recognizing significant financial contributors. Waldrum gave special attention to the Eddie Smith family for their $10 million contribution toward the center’s fundraising goals.

“Their generosity, support and leadership has been outstanding,” Waldrum said. “I think our whole community needs to understand what this family has done for its community. Eddie also understands that it takes a lot of dedicated people to accomplish this.”

Vidant will host a community open house from 2-5 p.m. on Sunday at the cancer center. Members of the public are invited to join for light refreshments and self-guided tours.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.