eisenhower schnitzer novack breast center

Like a Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Technology at Eisenhower Schnitzer/Novack Breast Centers eases the minds of oncologists and their patients.

Janice Kleinschmidt Current PSL, Health & Wellness

eisenhower schnitzer novack breast center

Eisenhower Schnitzer/Novak Breast Center has locations in Rancho Mirage and La Quinta.

At one end of the philanthropic span, people write checks with nary a thought to the finer points of their purpose. Eisenhower Health supporters anchor their giving at the opposite end.

“Healthcare is a big interest of ours, and we are actively involved in the causes to which we contribute,” Ken Novack says of himself and his wife, Deborah Schnitzer Novack. They have taken up the mantle of her parents, Gilbert and Thelma Schnitzer, who had a home at Tamarisk Country Club in Rancho Mirage and were active supporters of Coachella Valley organizations, including Eisenhower Health.

The couple not only directs much of Schnitzer/Novack Foundation’s money toward healthcare, but also participates in decision-making matters. Both served on the board of Oregon Health & Science University and Ken on the Napa Medical Research Foundation board of directors. Near their Bay Area and Napa Valley homes, Ken sits on the boards of California Pacific Medical Center and Deborah on the board of St. Helena Hospital. Near their Indian Wells residence, Ken serves on the boards of trustees and directors of Eisenhower Health and Deborah on the Eisenhower Health Foundation board of governors.

Nine months after dedication of the Eisenhower Lucy Curci Cancer Center in 2004 came the dedication of its Eisenhower Schnitzer/Novak Breast Center. A second breast center named for the major funders subsequently opened at Eisenhower George and Julia Argyros Health Center in La Quinta.


Deborah Schnitzer 
Novack and Ken Novack.

“I thank my lucky stars that my mother lived to 101 and didn’t have cancer, and I have never had breast cancer. But I have a daughter and two granddaughters, and mammograms are so critical in women’s health,” Deborah Schnitzer Novack says. “I have friends connected to doctors where they live all over the country and now have their mammograms done here.”

“We wanted to do something significant,” Ken Novack adds. “It also was important to us that it be a place accessible to everyone in the community, which has been supported more fully by things like Bighorn Behind A Miracle funding transportation.” (See “Community Treasures.”)

Conventional mammograms produce 2-D images, at times resulting in false alarms or cancer being missed. Tomography follows the curvature of the breast and takes several images that are compiled into [synthetic] 3-D images.

Source: Mayo Clinic Health System

“As far as imaging equipment goes, most of it has been provided by donor money,” reports breast center medical director Paul Sylvan, M.D. “The Schnitzer/Novack family funded much of the equipment at the outset and continues to support us.”

Such philanthropy covered this spring’s upgrade replacement of five mammography machines, the purchase of a sixth state-of-the-art machine, and acquisition of additional ultrasound units.

“As most technological things improve over time, new [mammography] machines provide much higher-resolution images,” Sylvan says, noting that the units run $400,000 to $500,000 apiece. Advanced mammography uses tomosynthesis, generating synthesized 3-D images so that radiation exposure is decreased from the standard of taking double 2-D images.

According to Johns Hopkins Medical Imaging, tomosynthetic mammograms (FDA approved in 2011), compared to conventional mammograms, detect more invasive cancers by 41 percent and reduce callbacks for a second look by 40 percent.


Paul Sylvan, M.D.

Sylvan further extols the virtues of the latest imaging software: (1) contrast-enhanced spectral mammography (known as CESM) that offers better specificity than MRI images and (2) Volpara, which he calls “an incredibly useful quality-assurance tool” that provides technicians with feedback on positioning, compression, and radiation dose while assessing breast density.

“There are four categories of breast density. The first two are dense and the last two are not. Almost 80 percent of all women fall in the middle two. And 12 to 18 percent of women get a different density reported from one year to another based on a subjective evaluation. [Volpara] standardizes the assessment,” Sylvan explains.

The breast center’s other key equipment is a stereotactic biopsy table. “We have a system that allows us to see every sample as it is collected, meaning fewer samples need to be taken,” Sylvan says. “We’ve been doing stereo biopsies with the patient prone. For elderly patients in particular, their complaint isn’t about the procedure but about the uncomfortable nature of the table. With the new mammography units, we got an upright biopsy attachment so that patients can sit upright.”

The Schnitzer/Novack Breast Centers perform about 100 to 110 exams a day in Rancho Mirage and 60 a day in La Quinta. “The most expensive, individual technology for our center runs somewhere around $550,000,” Sylvan says of the philanthropically acquired assets. “But donors also fund continuing education and training of staff.”

After all, what good are machines and software without people who know how to make the best use of them?

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