Mobile mammography van heading for Latin America

Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A mobile clinic that's provided mammograms to more than 10,000 women across Alaska is being sent to Central America because new federal regulations say its X-ray dosage is too high to be used here. A smaller van will replace ''Mollie,'' as the 43-foot van has been called.

''The machine marginally does not meet the United States standards, so it can't be certified,'' said Bob Coghill, executive director of the Breast Cancer Detection Center. ''If it can be used in another country where they don't have anything available, it's better than them not having anything at all.''

The unit came to the Breast Cancer Detection Center in 1995 after fund-raising efforts by Nancy Murkowski, wife of Gov. Fran Murkowski and a founder and longtime supporter of the center.

The van has an elevator, waiting room, bathroom, dressing room and mammography room. Coghill said he tried to find a place for the unit in Alaska, but didn't get any takers.

''There wasn't anybody in Alaska that needed a 43-foot-long clinic,'' he said.

The Downtown Rotary Club heard from another Rotary group that Mollie needed a home and acted.

''It was an opportunity that came up,'' said member Brenda Hewitt. ''Here was a machine that was not going to be put to use, and we knew of people in Latin America or Central America that could use it. There are people in Latin America who don't even know what mammograms are.

''We have members who have gone down there and have seen the need.'' Louis Thornley is one of those members. Thornley is a Fairbanks dentist who also practices in Latin America.

He called his contacts there to see where a 43-foot mammogram clinic might be needed.

''We're talking with them to find out what's best to do with it to make sure it goes where it's useful,'' he said. That's likely to be Honduras or Nicaragua.

Once arrangements are made, Coghill said, the unit will be taken to a dock in Anchorage to be shipped south.

''It will be particularly useful (in Central America) because the truck can go to remote areas,'' Coghill said. ''There's a lot of heating in this van, which they will wonder about, but it also has air conditioning.''

Coghill is looking forward to Mollie's replacement, named Doris. Sleeker than Mollie, Doris will be a van with more modern X-ray equipment.

Doris is named after the late Doris O. Loennig, a former member of the board of the Breast Cancer Detection Center who died March 15.

A $105,000 donation from Safeway grocery stores and $10,000 from the club Quota International are paying for Doris, which can be used year-round, unlike Mollie.

''I think we're going to be more efficient with the smaller truck,'' Coghill said.

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