State’s Only Oncology ICU Provides Critical Care and Comfort

February 28, 2018

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Feb. 28, 2018– After being diagnosed with advanced stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma of the brain and adrenal glands last November, Matthew Day, of Catawba, never thought a different illness would put his life at risk.

Day, 35, developed bacterial meningitis last month as a result of his compromised immune system from cancer and his therapy treatments. He was admitted to the Oncology Intensive Care Unit (OICU) at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Comprehensive Cancer Center—the only unit of its kind in the state and one of the few in the country.

Six days of specialized treatment in the OICU removed the threat of the potentially fatal infection, allowing Day to once again concentrate on his fight against his lymphoma, which involves chemotherapy treatment for 22 hours a day for five straight days every three weeks.   

“During what should have been the scariest time of my life, I felt such comfort and trust,” Day said. “The physicians, nurses, therapists, everyone on that unit treated me special, like I was their only patient, and I always felt I was safe with them. They truly saved me.”

The 12-bed OICU, which opened in January 2017, is dedicated to the treatment of adult patients with cancer and blood disorders requiring critical care. While patients with cancer make up the majority, this dedicated unit also provides expert care for malignant and non-malignant bleeding disorders.

“Cancer and its therapies encumber the immune system resulting in the body not always being able to protect itself from getting an infection,” said Peter Miller, M.D., assistant professor of hematology and critical care at Wake Forest Baptist. “That’s where an oncology ICU steps in. For a severely ill cancer patient to receive optimal care it requires multidisciplinary expertise in hematology, oncology and critical care— and that concentrated proficiency is what defines an oncology ICU and sets it apart.”

Miller is associate medical director of the OICU and one of the few physicians in the nation board-certified in both hematology and critical care.

Wake Forest Baptist’s OICU employs a team approach to patient care, combining the skills and experience of physicians, nurses and pharmacists trained in critical care, hematology and oncology. The interdisciplinary team members meet regularly to evaluate each patient’s condition and treatment options, which they present to the patient and family members.

The custom-designed unit promotes a peaceful environment with its large windows, rocking chairs and lounge areas. Each patient room has convertible furniture that can be used as a bed by family members. The unit offers laundry and shower facilities for visitors along with a serenity room, a dedicated space for families to have privacy.

“With a year under our belt now, it’s easy to see how valuable and meaningful this unit is to patients,” Miller said. “We’ve been able to provide patients with opportunities to reach meaningful milestones, such as wedding anniversaries and birthdays, improve quality of life and offer dedicated support to patients and family members.”

Wake Forest Baptist’s Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of just three National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the state and one of 46 in the country. It has held this designation continuously since 1990. 

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