From Cars to Proton Therapy

Two years ago as Steve Geary traveled the freshly painted hallways of ProCure’s suburban Chicago proton center, interviewing for a Senior Machinist position, he knew he had finally found the place where his 35 years of auto industry experience would be put to good use.

“After years of searching for the right opportunity, ProCure was the only place I could see myself working,” said Geary. “I knew this was the place where my experience as a machinist and tool and die maker would truly make a difference, but instead of making cars run more smoothly, I was going to help people live better lives.”

Geary works with two other machinists in ProCure’s onsite Machine Shop creating apertures for Proton Therapy patients. “Knowing the product we manufacture is helping another human being is the most rewarding way to employ the talents we’ve accumulated in our lifetime,” added Geary.

“The aperture controls the size and shape of the proton beam to be delivered to the patient and protects the surrounding healthy tissue,” says Geary. “Apertures are individually designed for each patient based on tumor size and are created for both pediatric and adult patients.”

Before a patient arrives for treatment at CDH Proton Center, a ProCure Center, a team of professionals puts together a treatment plan, using images of a patient’s tumor. Once the treatment plan is finalized, the image information is sent to Steve and his team for manufacturing. The machinist’s first step in creating an aperture is to process the digital information using software applications designed for manufacturing proton devices. Then, with the aid of computer numerical controlled (CNC) machine tools, the aperture is created and is accurate to 25 microns, a measurement many times smaller than a human hair.

More than 5,000 apertures have been machined by Geary and his coworkers over the past two years. Some apertures take less than an hour to produce; others can take up to six hours, depending on the complexity and size. Because of the volume of apertures created, Geary and his team are continually finding ways to improve the machining process to advance the quality of care they deliver to patients.

One of their latest projects involves working with partners on software applications that will further enhance the quality of apertures, while simultaneously reducing the amount of time it takes to manufacture them.

“This will add increased capacity to our machine shop without adding any costs to the process, helping make Proton Therapy even more accessible,” added Geary. “We’re proud of what we do in the Machine Shop. We get a sense of gratification knowing that the patient leaves healthier than when they came in.”