Jasper gets phototherapy unit through local fundraising effort

Jasper has become the third and smallest community in the province to obtain a UV dosimeter phototherapy unit.

Patients here now join those in Edmonton and Calgary in being able to access this ultraviolet ray booth that will help in treatments for a multitude of skin conditions.

The Jasper Healthcare Foundation led the charge with Marta Rode holding the flag to fundraise for the effort. Rode said that her interest in the device started because of her father’s experiences fighting an autoimmune disease, for which he received heavy doses of immunosuppressive medications.

“It really hurt him. After that, the doctor said, ‘Well, you can try this UV phototherapy.’ It was the thing that after years of itchy and painful inflammation in his skin, it went away within two months. It was his favourite treatment,” Rode said.

For most practical purposes, the phototherapy unit looks and works like a tanning booth, except that it works at the level of therapeutic doses of ultraviolet rays. You do get a tan out of it, Rode said, which is why her dad used to call it his “Mexico treatment.”

“It was short. It was warm. He would go first thing in the morning on cold winter days and he’d come out smiling. He looked like he'd been on a beach vacation. You ended up actually looking hot coming out.”

UV Phototherapy is a medical treatment for a multitude of skin-related issues.

This treatment protocol eliminates the need for systemic drugs to deal with certain skin issues, also eliminating the associated risks with taking these systemic, immunocompromising drugs.

The dosimeter that comes with the unit makes a more exacting treatment that eliminates any guesswork. A dermatologist can prescribe a treatment protocol, and this protocol can be followed with exact precision using the dosimeter. Jasper is the only community outside of Edmonton and Calgary to have this exacting treatment option.

The clinic’s phototherapy unit can only be accessed by patients whose doctors prescribe it for them. A dermatologist can prescribe a treatment protocol, and the dosimeter ensures an exact measure of ultraviolet rays. The treatments can be a few times a week and are usually less than a minute for each session. It’s also covered by Alberta Health Care.

Fundraising covered the total cost of the approximately $20,000 unit.

Michael Furzeland, president of the Jasper Healthcare Foundation, said that obtaining new equipment and making health care more accessible to the community is exactly what the foundation strives to achieve.

Previously, it was able to fund a portable ultrasound and some beds for the emergency department at the hospital. Its next projects look to obtain CPR mannequins for training and help the hospital acquire a roam alert system. That would help ensure the safety and well-being of patients who are prone to wandering out of doors.

There are some pieces of equipment that help health care professionals to do a better job of taking care of people, he said.

“(Alberta Health Services) considers the UV light therapy a luxury item,” Furzeland said. “That's what we do. We provide equipment that AHS either won't buy or considers a luxury item.”

He’s pleased that the phototherapy unit is now available to help Jasperites who need it in their healing journeys.

“To hear that it is up and running, and people are using it... it's fantastic news to hear.”

Like Rode, he considered this project to be a true Jasper success story for how so many came together to support it and bring it to fruition.

The foundation also provides scholarships for people in the health-care profession.

For Rode, she hopes that the device helps others in much the same way it helped her dad. She said that she feels like he would have fared better in his own health if he had started getting phototherapy treatments sooner.

“I feel like had my dad found this machine six months earlier he would still be alive. It’s my homage to him. It’s my little way of saying, ‘I love you, Daddy.’ Maybe he can save somebody else.”

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh