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News Release

Media Contact: Tom Grant

Published on March 15, 2004

Press Release

Program to Provide Free Colorectal Cancer Screenings for Montgomery County Firefighters

Rockville, MD — A father who lost his 45-year-old son to colorectal cancer is determined to make sure that others get the education and screenings they need to beat this deadly cancer.

Montgomery County firefighter Chris Sarris died of colorectal cancer on February 14, 2003, following a three-year battle with the disease. His father, John Aravanis, has worked closely in recent months with Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, Washington Adventist Hospital and Montgomery County Fire and Rescue to launch an education and screening program called SCREEN (Sarris Colorectal Examination and Education Needs) for Montgomery County fire and rescue workers.

Under the SCREEN program, Shady Grove Adventist Hospital and Washington Adventist Hospital will work in partnership with Montgomery County Fire and Rescue to screen 300 fire and rescue workers annually, as well as to provide them with information about colorectal cancer.

Insurance companies cover a variety of colorectal cancer screening tests beginning at age 50, but the SCREEN program will provide free colonoscopies to fire and rescue workers ages 40 and up. Mr. Aravanis has created a fund to reimburse those workers who are not covered by Medicare or other insurance. In addition, fire and rescue workers ages 35 and up will receive a free fecal occult blood test kit at their annual physical.

The SCREEN program will kick off on Wednesday, March 17 at 8 a.m. at the Fire Rescue Training Academy, 9710 Great Seneca Highway, Rockville. Speakers will include Chief Thomas W. Carr Jr., Battalion Chief Rich Holzman, Mr. Aravanis, and a firefighter who will discuss how he was reluctant to be screened, but finally went through with the screening and discovered he had an early and treatable form of colorectal cancer.

In the months following the March 17 kickoff, cancer outreach coordinators from Adventist HealthCare will visit county fire stations to provide education about colorectal cancer.

“It’s so easy to test for colorectal cancer. If you’re unfortunate enough to contract it, the alternative is so terrible. Many people don’t want to get the test, but it is so simple,” said Mr. Aravanis.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, claiming more lives annually than either breast or prostate cancer. In 2004, colorectal cancer will cause more than 56,000 deaths in the United States. Yet, when colorectal cancer is found at an early stage, the five-year survival rate is 90 percent.

Mr. Aravanis’ son was never screened for colorectal cancer. He began experiencing lower back pain in June 1999, at age 42. Physicians thought the pain could be from a strained muscle or a herniated disk. But in January 2000, a lower MRI revealed a significant tumor which had permeated his rectal wall and was placing pressure on the nerves in his back. He was diagnosed with Stage Four colorectal cancer, meaning the cancer had spread to other areas of his body. When he died in 2003, he left behind a wife and two young children.

Mr. Aravanis came up with the idea to provide colorectal cancer screenings and education to fire and rescue workers when he was reading a copy of Shady Grove Adventist Hospital’s Health Advisor and saw a listing for colorectal cancer screenings.

“Chris loved the fire department so much, and they loved him so much,” said Mr. Aravanis. ““I wanted to do something to say thank you and also in some way shape or form make something good come out of his experience.”

He contacted Shady Grove Adventist Hospital and Washington Adventist Hospital Prevention and Wellness employees, and described his idea to offer colorectal cancer screenings to fire and rescue workers in Montgomery County. He then worked in conjunction with Candice Moran and Ivy Bazensky, Cancer Outreach Coordinators for the hospitals’ Prevention and Wellness department, and officials from Montgomery County Fire and Rescue to coordinate and launch the SCREEN program.

“Colorectal cancer is highly treatable if caught early,” said Judy Lichty, Director of Prevention and Wellness. “We are pleased to work on this very important initiative with Montgomery County Fire and Rescue, and we are hopeful that it will save lives.”

Shady Grove Adventist Hospital and Washington Adventist Hospital are part of Adventist HealthCare. Adventist HealthCare is a non-profit network of health care services that includes hospitals, home health agencies, nursing centers and other health care services. Based in Rockville, Adventist HealthCare employs more than 7,000 people and cares for more than 200,000 patients each year among its various entities and services.

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