(WXYZ) — In the middle of this pandemic and with the civil unrest still simmering across the nation due to the Capitol insurrection and now the George Floyd trial, first responders are under tremendous stress.
That's why as a community service Ascension Michigan brings a mobile unit to our local police and fire departments to screen for the number one killer of men and women, but what they're uncovering goes far beyond.
Novi Police Officer Tim Farrell has been suiting up in the blue for 31 years. For him, it's a calling especially when someone's life in on the line, as it was during a recent motorcycle accident.
"We were able to save a gentleman's life; he lost two limbs," said Officer Farrell.
Now our men and women in blue and fire rescue are under more stress than ever before.
"Stress can play a significant role in any person's health especially in a police officer who will go to work every day wondering if he is going to come home alive," said Dr. Jerome Seid, a medical oncologist with Ascension Michigan.
Prevalence of Mental Illness and Mental Health Care Use Among Police Officers
From the survey: "In this survey study of 434 police officers, 12% had a lifetime mental health diagnosis and 26% reported current symptoms of mental illness. Of these officers, 17% had sought mental health care services in the past 12 months, but officers reported interest in help if a few key concerns were met, including confidentiality assurance."
According to the online database ScienceDirect.com, 80-percent of first responders report dealing with traumatic events on the job, and nearly 15 percent suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"We see a lot of good things and we see some sad things as well," said Farrell.
Death, car accidents, police shootings -- all can cause your blood pressure to rise, heart rate to go up and that creates a perfect storm for the number one killer of men and women.
That's why Ascension Michigan has committed to screening 1,000 police officers and firefighters from Metro Detroit with their mobile heart unit, and they come directly to our first responders.
"This is really our way for not just a health system but the community to give back to a lot of these folks that put their lives on the line, they run toward the fire not away from it," said Dr. Shukri David, Chair of Cardiovascular Services at Ascension Michigan.
This mobile unit screens for vascular disease, abdominal aortic aneurysms, and more, and for Officer Farrell, who had no idea he had a cancerous tumor the size of a baseball growing inside him causing acid reflux, the screening was a wake-up call.
"I had a feeling something was going on as the tech was doing it cause she was asking me about my abdomen and if I had prior surgery," he said.
From there a CAT scan, MRI, and then surgery to remove the tumor, which is called a GIST, a gastrointestinal stromal tumor.
"This is really a cancer of the wall, the material that holds that stomach wall together," said Dr. Jerome Seid.
Dr. Seid put Officer Farrell on targeted oral chemotherapy, which is a once-a-day pill for three years to reduce the chance of a recurrence.
"The likelihood of him being cured is extremely high," he said.
For Officer Farrell, who works sun-up to sundown and risks his own life daily just by the profession he's chosen, the results of this simple screening are just another reason to be grateful to see the sunrise.
"Every day is precious and this is a chance for anybody who can do any type of preventative testing, taking those measures so you don't run into something that can cost you your life," said Officer Farrell.
These screenings are $60-$70 and covered by Ascension as a community service, but certainly life-changing for first responders like Officer Farrell who have little time to make it to the doctor's office for a routine physical let alone a screening like this one.