HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — Families in Lake Norman are desperate for answers about the alarming number of cases of eye and thyroid cancers in the area.
Business and health care leaders in the Lake Norman area, tired of doing nothing with each new cancer diagnosis, are now forming a nonprofit. They want to team up with hospitals on a groundbreaking effort they believe could help catch these deadly cancers early.
Ocular melanoma usually affects 5 in 1 million people, but in the Huntersville area alone, nearly two dozen people have been diagnosed with it. Two people, Meredith Stapleton and Kenan Koll died from it.
In Iredell County, the rate of thyroid cancer diagnoses is nearly double the state rate.
Jeff Tarte spent years representing the Lake Norman area in Raleigh as a state senator. For the past seven years, he has been working on a major new effort.
“If we can find cancers in stage 1 and start having them sent to the appropriate health care venue to be treated and taken care of, we’ll save lives. Thousands of lives,” Tarte told Channel 9′s Allison Latos.
Tarte and other community leaders have created the Lake Norman Health Care Collaborative, a nonprofit with two main missions: early identification and community screenings.
The nonprofit is not trying to find the cause of these rare cancers but instead is aiming to figure out who is most at risk and who should be screened early.
“I asked the three hospital CEOs, ‘Do you share your data for the benefit of the community?’ Mark Bodnar said.
Bodnar and Scott Guilfoyle analyze health care data every day at Global Care Analytics in Cornelius.
“What we’re basically doing is offering what we do for a living with health providers around the country,” said Guilfoyle.
Through this nonprofit, they’re seeking information from the Lake Norman area’s main hospitals -- Novant, Atrium, Iredell Memorial and Mooresville Regional.
They believe digging through the patient data could reveal big clues.
“One of the most critical pieces of doing this with health providers is promising and proving we will secure patient data and their data,” said Guilfoyle.
The focus centers on thyroid, ocular melanoma and colon cancers in these ZIP codes around Lake Norman.
The collaboration is still working to get hospitals to agree to share their information.
This spring, the nonprofit hopes the first of many community screenings will start. There’s no date or location set for screening, but nonprofit leaders hope they will be held at community events.
They argue there’s a huge benefit to businesses because catching cancers early can reduce health care costs.
Nonprofit leaders said they want to work with local hospitals to offer reduced rates and raise funds to help, too. Tarte said they’re looking to raise $10 million and are hoping to get endowments, grants and maybe federal dollars.
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