BY RALPH BLUM
IMRT sessions are two-thirds done, and I’m feeling hopeful. After 30 sessions,
with only two weeks to go, I got my second PSA reading. To my profound relief,
it registered another downward shift—this time from 24 to 17.5. Yeah team!
Yet before I get any further, I need to express
my gratitude. In particular, to Vasek Polak, (Pronounced “Vachek”) who funded the state-of-the-art Accelerator with RapidArc technology
at St. John’s, in the unit named for him, my every weekday Monday through
Friday IMRT destination.
To get from the Emergency Entrance to the
IMRT unit, I have to traverse an entire block from Arizona Avenue to Santa
Monica Boulevard, take an elevator to the lower level “Garden” level (No
basements in this Bel Air crossed with Easthampton part of West LA), then down
another long corridor to the electronic doors that close off the Radiation
It is cool and quiet down here: twenty-foot
high white and teal colored walls. The lighting is benign (round, inset ceiling
bulbs - the kind used to illuminate single paintings) and the only sound a
distant faint humming, like you might hear late at night on a giant cruise
the last curve and you can see the legend. High on the outside wall, in silver
letters—the size of letters I’d seen used to spell Eisenhower’s name on
monuments; letters tall enough to cast shadows on the teal blue wall—are listed
the Benefactors of this vast medical complex. And there’s my man, albeit given
a supporting player credit under John Wayne’s star billing (“The John Wayne
Cancer Center”), but there it is and I’d passed under it mindlessly every time
I came for IMRT: Vasek Polak Radiation Treatment Center
I’d never heard of
Polak, so I started by checking him out with “Dr. Google.” Turns out, he was a
Czech immigrant, a genius Porsche mechanic and racing driver with a
hair-trigger temper and a knack for making money, a muscular, wavy haired,
roughneck wizard who liked to have a flask of Pilzner Czech beer at his side when
Polak opened the
first exclusively Porsche dealership in the United States and built it into a
South Bay-based auto empire. From all reports, Polak was overbearing and
dictatorial, “A man of strong opinions, which he did not keep to himself,” as
one of his mechanic friends told me. “He was an S.O.B. who could also be kind
and very generous.” And he used his fortune to fight cancer.
Reading about this
cantankerous genius, and interviewing several of his friends and co-workers, I
was struck with the fact that Polak was fearless. The size of the challenge
didn’t seem to faze him: a faulty ring or piston, an entire transmission to be
replaced just hours before a race, grappling with a drunken mechanic—whatever
the situation, like a bull-rider, Polak took it by the horns, and dealt with
it. All his energy went into problem solving, winning races, and building a
Porsche empire. And underwriting state-of-the-art healing facilities.
Polak built major treatment centers in this
country as well as in his native Czech Republic. In the Los Angeles area alone,
thanks to his generosity, we have the Long Beach Children’s Clinic, the Vasek Polak Health Clinic in Hawthorne (“No
appointment or insurance needed.”), Polak’s Breast Diagnostic Center in
Torrance, and the St. John’s installation where, thanks to Polak’s over 6
million dollar funding, I am receiving IMRT, each $3,000 session paid for by
Medicare and AARP.
technology enables the linear accelerator to deliver precise forms of radiation
up to eight times faster than other systems. This allows St. John's patients to
receive higher dose radiation precisely targeted to their particular tumor in
shorter sessions. As a result, healthy tissue is spared, side effects are held
to a minimum, and outcomes are improved.
However, as I pointed out in my last IMRT blog, the continuing
availability of IMRT is under siege. Which is why I’m checking in—starting with my
gratitude to this amazing dude who thought it was “a hoot” that the slang word
for syphilis in the Czech language was “music” (musika). And who is probably saving my life.
I’d like to
have gotten to know Vasek Polak, thanked him personally, and had a chance to
buy him the best Czech Pilsner.