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NEW YORK — Kay Murcer stepped off a chilly Manhattan sidewalk and onto Broadway, peering up at the large white trailer parked in the shadows of City Hall. She smiled, knowing that if her husband, Bobby, could be here to see this day, he’d do the same.
Four months after the popular Yankee’s untimely passing, The Bobby Murcer Mobile MRI Unit was formally dedicated on Tuesday morning, a centerpiece of The Road to Early Detection project sponsored by The Brain Tumor Foundation.
The launch of the Murcer Mobile MRI Unit marks the start of the first national campaign promoting early detection of brain tumors, as Road to Early Detection will focus on outreach to communities, particularly for those underserved in all of New York City’s five boroughs.
“It’s really exciting, because this is something that I know he would have been absolutely thrilled about,” Kay Murcer said. “I think it’s such a hopeful thing. This is where we have to begin, because early detection is the key. Bobby’s was detected fairly early, and he did have a successful removal.
“It’s unfortunate that his type of brain tumor was one that you’re just given a certain amount of time. Hopefully, as we get more research and funding, earlier detection will help more and more people.”
From the outside, the brain scan unit appears much like an oversized tractor-trailer, drawn by a truck cab. Inside, the mobile unit takes on the look of a high-tech medical facility. Computer screens and medical equipment are stationed in the entryway, with a tube MRI machine protected behind glass doors.
In less than 10 minutes, a patient can have a brain scan performed through a radiation-free and non-invasive procedure, with the results then sent to their primary care physician.
“It is a fact that over half of all brain tumor patients could have their tumors successfully removed for good if they were detected early, before physical symptoms become apparent,” said Michael Schreiber, the chairman of Road to Early Detection and The Brain Tumor Foundation. “The only way to detect a tumor early is through the use of MRI brain scans.”
The Mobile MRI Unit will be set up in areas where people work, study and live, making brain screenings and early detection accessible and cost-free. If the campaign is successful in New York City, it could lead to the launch of a nationwide program.
“We’re still waiting for a scientist in a lab somewhere to come up with a miracle cure for brain tumors, but in the meantime, we’re going to try something else,” said Dr. Patrick J. Kelly, the Joseph Ransohoff Professor of Neurosurgery at New York University’s School of Medicine.
“We’re going to try to find brain tumors while they’re still small and asymptomatic, before they turn malignant. It is much easier to remove a small tumor than a big one.”
Murcer, who served the Yankees organization for four decades as a player, broadcaster and executive, was diagnosed on Christmas Eve 2006 after complaining of headaches and a general loss of energy. An MRI scan was prescribed, which revealed a malignant brain tumor and led to surgery that week at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Inspiring many with his valiant battle, the extremely popular Murcer made good on a promise to return to the YES Network broadcast booth. He also completed an autobiography detailing his battle with brain cancer, titled “Yankee for Life,” which was published in May this year.
“The MRI is a painless thing that you do and it is something that alerts you,” Kay Murcer said. “You have a future after that. Bobby was so happy to have had almost 19 months that he accomplished an awful lot. Bobby said, ‘I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but it has changed my life for the better.’
“It is so hard to imagine that you can say that when you’ve been given a death sentence, but he counted every day as a real blessing. That’s the hope you get when you are detected early.”
Prior to his passing on July 12 at the age of 62, Murcer was a strong advocate and spokesperson for The Brain Tumor Foundation and its Road to Early Detection campaign.
Murcer had been scheduled to record public-service announcements for the program, but when his illness made that impossible, they were recorded by Kay Murcer following the Yankee Stadium finale on Sept. 21. Kay has also devoted time to mentoring newly diagnosed cancer families, supporting cancer research foundations and writing.
“It wasn’t a role I ever thought I would be put into, to tell you the truth,” Murcer said. “It has just evolved for me. Since he passed away, I had a feeling that this is something he would have received. It just feels like a natural progression for me. It’s a great community of people up here.”
Scans in the Mobile MRI Unit are by appointment only. To schedule a scan, New Yorkers are urged to call (877) SCAN-NYC or visit http://www.roadtoearlydetection.org.