100th Gamma Knife patient at PARC

News | 18 days ago

Charlotte’s 100th Gamma Knife Patient Shares His Story

Just five months after its arrival in Charlotte, Gamma Knife surgery has offered more than 100 patients an alternative to brain surgery.

In January 2024, Atrium Health Levine Cancer became the first facility in the Charlotte area to offer Gamma Knife radiosurgery, a game-changer for radiation treatment in Charlotte. Just five months later, Allan Quaife became the site’s 100th Gamma Knife surgery patient. When Atrium Health Levine Cancer Proton & Advanced Radiation Center (PARC) introduced this state-of-the-art therapy to the area, it gave patients like Allan access to an advanced critical treatment that reduces side effects, shortens recovery times and lowers costs.

But what, exactly, is Gamma Knife radiosurgery, and who may benefit from it?

“Gamma Knife is a form of state-of-the-art focused radiation treatment for lesions in the brain,” says Dr. Stuart Burri, a radiation oncologist at Atrium Health Levine Cancer. With Gamma Knife, the radiation targets brain tumors with such precision that it leaves very few effects to the tissue around that tumor. For some people with brain tumors, like Allan, it means they have the choice between brain surgery and this 20-minute outpatient procedure.

Allan’s Choice: Brain Surgery vs. Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

Allan had an acoustic neuroma, which is a non-cancerous tumor that grows deep into the ear. Although it was benign, the tumor had already cost Allan his hearing on one side and, if it grew more, it could press against brain tissue and cause new symptoms. In many parts of the country, the only solution Allan would have to treat his tumor would’ve been brain surgery; at Levine Cancer, however, he could choose between surgery and Gamma Knife radiosurgery. He chose the latter.

“The main thing was that it wasn’t brain surgery,” Allan says of his decision. “I wasn’t too keen on brain surgery if there were other options available to me.”

The most common use of Gamma Knife surgery is for well-defined brain tumors, both benign and malignant. It can be used for vascular abnormalities and facial pain as well. Allan says that the process was simple. A week before the procedure, he went to PARC for a mask fitting. To ensure the patient stays as still as possible during the treatment, each patient gets a mask customized to their face which clips down to the bed that slides into the Gamma Knife machine. Allan says going into the procedure, the mask was the most intimidating part but the experience itself was much easier than he expected.

“They try to make it as relaxing as possible,” Allan says. “They’ve got soft lighting, and they’ll play whatever music you want to help you relax during the procedure.” 

For about 20 minutes, Allan laid perfectly still inside the machine, listening to classical music. Then, he was done: His tumor only required a one-time treatment. The only side effect he had was a little soreness on the back of his head. Allan felt so good after the procedure that he and his wife stopped on the way home to run errands.

High Tech with a Personal Touch

It may seem intimidating to choose a treatment that is new to a metropolitan area, but Allan says that he felt comfortable throughout the process.

“That was the best part of the journey: There were a lot of people, including specialists, who explained the ins and outs to me and my wife,” Allan says. “But the decision was ultimately left to me. I had to choose what was best for me, which is nice. It’s always nice to have options and to reach an emotional and mental comfort level with a decision.”

Burri believes that the personal support that PARC offers each patient is as crucial as the advanced medical technology.

“The PARC, in addition to cutting edge technology, has a strong focus on the patient experience,” Burri says. “The building is designed with the patient experience at the forefront. We have a dedicated Gamma Knife coordinator who shepherds patients through the evaluation and treatment process working to optimize the experience. Any interaction with the medical system can be daunting, but at Atrium Health Levine Cancer we focus on the patient and family, as well as the technical details.”

Allan will continue to come to Levine Cancer for MRIs to monitor for regrowth of his tumor. If it does return, he can consult with providers to choose again between Gamma Knife radiosurgery or traditional surgery to treat it. But now, with clean MRIs, he and his wife have other decisions to make. 

“We’re looking to take a couple of trips as a family this year,” says Allan, who has four children. “We’ve got a little thing going where we want to visit national parks, and Mammoth Cave is one my wife is eyeballing. Our kids are still young, and right now, it’s all about making memories.”

Learn more about Gamma Knife radiosurgery at Atrium Health Levine Cancer.