Local program combines PSA testing with blood donation

By

This year Eddie Check is doing the same thing it’s been doing for the past 14 years: providing prostate cancer screenings and blood donations to the people of East Tennessee.

This year’s event kicks off Thursday, Sept. 14, and will be hosted at 12 sites throughout the Knoxville region on Thursday and Friday. The event offers free PSA screenings to men over 40 years old—blood donations encouraged but not required.

In 2004, Rockford-based Nisus Corporation, a manufacturer of green products for the pest control and wood preservation industries, teamed up with area hospitals and MEDIC Regional Blood Center to create Eddie Check, an annual event that adds free PSA screening for prostate cancer to blood drives. It was a simple strategy using MEDIC’s already existing resources to make it fast and easy for men to get a blood sample drawn for the screening. Nisus has a personal stake in the fight; marketing vice president Jim Gorman is a prostate cancer survivor, while company president Kevin L. Kirkland lost his father, Eddie Kirkland, to the disease. In fact, “Eddie Check” is named for Eddie Kirkland.

Prostate cancer is the third most common cancer. In 2015, there will be an estimated 220,800 new cases diagnosed in the U.S., and approximately 14 percent of men will be diagnosed with prostate in their lifetimes, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Eddie Check allows men, many of whom are hesitant to set up an annual physical exam, to get the PSA test for free while also performing a community service.

“Men don’t really like to go to the doctor, let’s just face it, they don’t,” Kirkland says. “With Eddie Check they can just stop by and get a free PSA test.”

Eddie Check’s history

Kevin Kirkland, president and CEO of Nisus Corp., was still a teenager when his father, Eddie, received news of of his late-stage prostate cancer. He died four years later, leaving a lasting impression on his young son. The loss compounded grief over his mother’s death from breast cancer just a year before.

Neither disease had yet attained the public attention and awareness they garner now.

“Back in 1972, people didn’t discuss prostate cancer. PSA tests didn’t exist,” Kirkland says. “I always knew I wanted to do something that would increase the awareness of prostate cancer in the same way as breast cancer has gained public attention.”

It took 30 years, and Eddie Check was born.The first event in 2004 featured one Medic bus. The event ran a total of 50 PSA tests and collected 50 units of blood. Originally called Eddie Kirkland Memorial Blood Drive and Free PSA Testing Event, Radio talk show host Phil Williams coined the name Eddie Check. It stuck.

These days, the initiative involves live radio shows on location with partners including News Talk 98.7, WIVK and WNML. The program typically collects more than 1,000 units of blood and runs more than 1,000 PSA tests.

In addition to serving as a host site, the Provision CARES Proton Therapy Center serves as a sponsor for the event. And the Provision CARES foundation pays for all Eddie Check’s PSA tests.

Eddie Check helps Provision patient identify his prostate cancer

Eddie Check showed Kevin Wathen of Maryville what he regular doctor had failed to: an elevated PSA level. After a biopsy, he learned that he had developed prostate cancer.

“There were no symptoms to tell me there was a problem,” Wathen says. “If I hadn’t had the test done I wouldn’t have given it any thought.”

Wathen became an early patient at Provision. There, his prostate cancer was treated with protons, a type of radiation that pinpoints a tumor and spares much of the healthy tissue around it. This reduces side effects such as incontinence and impotency as well as discomfort during the time of treatment. Wathen was one of the fi rst to receive hypofractionated proton therapy treatments at the center, a shortened, more intense course that allows therapy duration to be cut in half.

“It still doesn’t feel like I ever had cancer,” he says.

Wathen says he would recommend men of all ages taking advantage of the free annual PSA test, at least to establish a baseline for further testing.

“Especially with Eddie Check being available at no charge,” Wathen says. “I’d do it every year.”

Who should be tested?

Men should consult with their healthcare provider about being screened for prostate cancer as early detection can improve long-term outcomes. Men considered to be at higher risk include men 50-years-old or more, African American men, men 45-years-old or older with a first-degree relative (father, brother or son) diagnosed with prostate cancer before age 65 and men 40-years-old or older with more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer before age 65

Screening options include: 1) a digital rectal exam, conducted by the physician to determine the size of the prostate and feel for tumors; 2) a test measuring levels of prostate specific antigen, or PSA, in the blood. And elevated PSA test can indicate the presence of cancer but also noncancerous conditions such as prostatitis and 3) a biopsy, depending on the outcome of other tests.