Rob stays up to date on all of the latest information. He has always known that early detection of problems is the answer. So, being a warrior, he made it his mission to prove that lung cancer does not have to be a death sentence. Even people who are most at risk, such as longtime tobacco users and those with family history of cancer, can complete treatment and go on to lead healthy lives. The secret is early detection.
Realizing how difficult it is for most people to go to a hospital for a lung screening, both time wise and expense wise, he set out on his quest to find a solution: Take the screening to the people. Relying on the slogan “If you build it, they will come,” Rob Headrick believed that taking technology to the masses, especially those most at risk, would be an important educational experience and lives would be saved. Dr. Headrick wants to find the cancers before they spread and are much harder to cure. “It seemed so easy – just go scan everybody,” he said.
Dr. Headrick and his colleagues began designing and building a lung screening program that was based on a built-from-scratch bus with a portable CT scanner that can quickly detect cancer. The project soon became known as “Breathe Easy.”
In the beginning, they encountered a lot of people who thought it would be impossible to take the expensive medical equipment (which is cumbersome, sensitive to heat and humidity and designed to stay in one place) and transport it on a bus over rough roads and hills of rural Tennessee. The list of “cannots” was long, but our warrior team proved them false. The Breathe Easy Bus officially began operations early in 2018.
This technology is the first of its kind in the Chattanooga area and the only fully independent unit in the nation. Results published in the July 2020 “Annals of Thoracic Surgery” were so positive that other health officials became intrigued, as well as Gov. Bill Lee. The next goal is to roll out additional Breathe Easy buses across the state, bringing potentially life saving screenings and lung cancer information to all Tennesseans.
“It may have been my idea,” Rob says, “but so many people were needed to challenge the idea and cheer it on.”
Dr. Rob Headrick received the 2020 Champions of Health Care Innovation in the Individual Innovation category, which brings him national recognition for his forward thinking and approach to lung health.
We are so proud of him. He really is a hometown boy, the son of Jan Headrick and the late Dr. Jim Headrick (also a well-known thoracic surgeon). A Bright School and Baylor School student, he grew up on the lake and was a Tennessee state water skiing champion.
Completing his undergraduate degree at Vanderbilt, Rob attended medical school at the University of Tennessee in Memphis. He completed a general surgery residency at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, Chattanooga, and a fellowship in thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine in Rochester, Minn. He is board certified in both general and thoracic surgery and also holds an MBA from UT-Knoxville.
Make your New Year’s resolution for 2021 to have a lung screening in the Breathe Easy bus! It will be the easiest resolution you will every keep. It’s quick (10 minutes), non-invasive, painless and comes with no out-of-pocket expense. If you are over 50, a smoker or a former smoker, or have a history of cancer in your family, this test can be invaluable to your future health. Tests can also show coronary disease and other problems. A doctor is present to read the scan, discuss findings and map out the next steps if necessary. If no problems are found, the patient can truly “breathe easy.”
Call (423) 495-LUNG (5864) for an appointment or to schedule the bus to come to a workplace or group function for multiple screenings.
Dr. Headrick realized, as a very young man still in his residency at Mayo, that early detection of lung cancer could lead to a cure. Dr. Rob Headrick is a warrior in the fight to erase the stigma surrounding lung cancer and change the survival rates. Visit the bus and “breathe easy!”
by Judy Rowland