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Shuttle service helps cancer patients

Van takes them back and forth for radiation treatments

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A few years ago, a couple crashed their car when one fell asleep while returning to Vernal from Salt Lake City, where both were receiving radiation treatment for cancer.

They survived. But the accident showed how long the journey is when someone who is ill has to go all that way to receive treatment, said Joseph Shaffer, TriCounty Health Department director.

The specialized treatment couldn't be brought closer. But residents of Daggett, Duchesne and Uintah counties have found a way to make it accessible and affordable, nonetheless.

They raised money for what's being called the "Radiation Vacation Van" to shuttle people from the area to the Huntsman Cancer facilities for treatment. They picked up their first passenger early this month.

The idea first came to Geri Merkley, a former cancer patient who had made that long journey herself. She pictured a shuttle-type service that would take radiation patients to their treatment and bring them home, sparing them the rigors of doing it themselves.

The community loved the idea and started raising money, said Shaffer, whose department contributed, too. The Uintah High School basketball program staged "Hoops for Hopes" and raised $40,000, part of it a sizeable single anonymous donation. Trees for Charity kicked in, and so did many individual citizens. They're still raising money, including proceeds from a raffle that's now under way. In "bits and pieces," he said, they've brought in more than $72,000.

The plan changed a little along the way. They originally planned to buy a van and hire a driver, but by the time you add in liability insurance and other factors, "it was kind of cumbersome," he said.

Instead, they decided to contract with an existing business, the "Vernal Shuttle." So people from the area with radiation treatment in Salt Lake simply call the TriCounty Health Department and arrange their schedule. The donations cover the cost of the transportation, although the patients do need a reservation and a doctor's referral. There's a pickup/drop-off location in both Vernal and Roosevelt.

For more information, call TriCounty Health at 435-781-5475.

E-mail: lois@desnews.com