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CHARLESTON, Wasatch County — Anyone familiar with cancer treatment knows it involves lots of doctor appointments. Making the same drive several times a week can be grueling, but now technology is sparing patients those repeated trips and offering them better quality of life.
Frank Severson, 80, enjoys a slice of heaven in Charleston, nestled in the Heber Valley.
"Where would you want to go that's any nicer than this. So we stay right here," he said. "We get up in the morning and look out and the hills are all red. Wow!"
He's been there for nearly 60 years and used to work as a hydroelectric power plant operator at the Deer Creek Dam.
"I don't like going back to the city very much. Too much traffic, too many people, too much hustle and bustle," Severson said.
Severson has had skin cancers on and off for 40 years, but this time he was diagnosed with melanoma after finding a spot on his leg. It's since metastasized to his brain, lungs and kidney.
The idea of driving to Salt Lake for doctor appointments was less than appealing, especially during treatment.
"If I was on something that made me sick, how am I going to get home?" he said.
Instead, Severson started telehealth appointments at Heber Valley Hospital, only four miles from his home.
"And that saves me an hour and a half each way," he said, and offers him peace of mind in case he wasn't feeling well or found himself in an emergency.
Dr. David Gill, an oncologist with Intermountain Healthcare, video chats Severson from his office in Murray.
"Now we can offer all of those same tests, labs, and subspecialty care, but just a couple minutes away from home rather than that long drive," he explained.
Gill says this helps patients who no longer have to take a day off work to travel or for those who can't make the drive.
"I've had patients that are getting more care because they just couldn't get over a mountain pass in the winter," he said. "Our goal is to really bring the same level of cancer care someone would get if they live in Salt Lake as if they also lived in a rural area."
He relies on video consultations and trained nurses to give Severson regular infusion treatments in Heber to provide quality care to Severson. He chats back and forth with the nurses in Heber throughout the day using various platforms.
"We have really state-of-the-art technology that can zoom in so close, we can even see the date on a quarter… in just as good of detail as you could see with your own eyes," he said.
This allows him to do a visual exam to help him look at a patient's rash or pictures of an endoscopy report.
Though Severson has never met Gill in person, he feels he's developed just as good of a rapport with his doctor as he would have in person.
"And this way I can talk to them for the 20 minutes or whatever that I would at the office and we've got it done," Severson said.
He says this gives him the freedom to do what he likes, like travel in the countryside. He and his wife just got back from seeing all sorts of wildlife in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
"I can do some more traveling. I can go more places!" he said. "There's lots of things to see, you know, there's a lot of world to be explored."
Most importantly, it allows him quality time with his family including his four great-grandkids.
"They're growing and I want to be around to see them," he said. Intermountain has 15 cancer center locations from Burley, Idaho, to St. George. They have plans to further expand in Idaho and Nevada too.