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ORLANDO, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35 ORLANDO) - Imagine a nearly 90-ton cancer killing machine that could target sick cells, but leaves the healthy ones alone. It's called proton therapy. One Orlando hospital is the first in central and southern Florida to get the technology.
Like many younger sisters, nine year old Abby Young loves playing with her big brother Jason. However, playtime was cut short three years ago when doctors found a tumor in Abby's brain.
Doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Orlando said the tumor could affect everything from Abby's eyesight to her ability to grow.
They recommended something large to shrink it.
"It was big," said Abby. "I was terrified!"
For six weeks, Abby and her mom Michelle traveled to Jacksonville to the nearest proton therapy treatment center.
"It was the option for her that offered the best chance of cure with the least amount of side effects," said Michelle Young. "I thought it was crazy,' said Jason Young.
"I thought it looked like the inside of a rocket ship."
Abby was inside the machine for 30 minutes.
"I could hug on it or whatever stuffed animal I had in there," said Abby.
"She was good," said Jason Young. "She didn't cry or anything. She handled it well."
"It would have made a world of difference to be able to stay here and to work and to keep my family together," said Michelle Young.
That will soon be the case.
Proton therapy is a non-invasive treatment that targets tumors while limiting the amount of radiation on healthy tissue.
Dr. Naren Ramakrishna is MD Anderson's director of proton therapy. He said the machine is very useful in treating difficult cases.
"Patients with tumors next to very critical organs," said Dr. Ramakrishna. "Patients with spinal tumors. Patients with tumors of the eye."
The 14,000 square foot center costs $25 million to build.
"Even though it's a very large investment at some risk," said Dr. Ramakrishna. "We wanted to be able to deliver this technology to our patients."
The machine's giant arms will pivot around patients. They will deliver radiation from different angles. The center will stand three floors high. The machine is so large it has to be delivered and installed in two phases. The first half arrived from Boston in November. It had to be lowered into the building.
Once the final piece is in place, the machine will weigh 84 tons. That's about the weight of a fully loaded 747.
And it's as large as its potential for success. Just ask's Abby's doctor Dr. Amy Smith.
"The tumor has continued to shrink over time since she got the radiation," said Dr. Smith.
"She's beautiful," said Michelle Young. "She's amazing, happy, and healthy, and doing well in school and excelling in her extracurricular activities."
"And I'm growing!" said Abby.
Abby must return to the hospital for annual MRI's, but she comes with words of wisdom.
"Don't be scared," said Abby. "It doesn't hurt at all."
Only 11 U.S. hospitals have the technology.
Orlando Health's Proton Therapy Center should be up and running by mid-2015. Once completed, doctors say they'll treat 30 patients a day.
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