Retired Col. Pete Dieck and his wife, Lydia, have made a lasting impression on Sentara RMH, in part because the hospital has made such a good impression on them.
The RMH Foundation is the beneficiary of a major donation from the Diecks that will be used to purchase a new linear accelerator, the Varian TrueBeam® system, a device that provides state-of-the-art radiation therapy treatments to cancer patients, for the Hahn Cancer Center. The new accelerator, one of two at Sentara RMH, will replace an older model, thanks to the financial assistance of the Diecks and other generous donors.
What’s perhaps most impressive about the Diecks’ financial support for the Hahn Cancer Center is that, while Pete is himself a cancer survivor, he never received cancer treatment there—not to mention the fact that the Diecks are only part-time residents of the Shenandoah Valley. However, they’re thankful for, and “overwhelmed by,” the Sentara RMH staff who have seen them for other ailments over the years— thankful enough to give back to the hospital in an impactful way.
“I’m very impressed with the attention, professionalism and care I’ve experienced at Sentara RMH,” says Pete, 80, who spends time at homes at Sunnyside Retirement Community in Harrisonburg and Bryce Resort in Shenandoah County. During the winter months, however, the couple resides in Florida. “Knowing there was a need at Sentara RMH for a new linear accelerator and having experienced cancer myself,” he says, “it just seemed like contributing toward its purchase was the right thing to do.”
Cory Davies, executive director of the RMH Foundation, calls the Diecks’ gift “transformational,” not only for the contribution they have made toward the linear accelerator’s purchase, but also because the Diecks have included provisions in their estate planning to support the RMH Foundation.
“The Diecks have such kind hearts,” Davies says. “If not for the generosity of people like them, returning the favor, we wouldn’t have the same high level of care and technology to provide for the community.”
Finding a Home in the Valley
A winding road brought Pete and Lydia Dieck (pronounced “Deek”) to the Shenandoah Valley. Born in Germany during World War II, Pete legally immigrated to the United States at 17, joining relatives in western New York. He then spent 28 years in the U.S. Army, during which he learned the discipline and experienced the camaraderie he credits with making him successful later in life.
During his seven years of enlisted service, Pete was assigned to air defense and communications/electronics units. In 1963, he graduated from Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning in Georgia and served the next 21 years as an officer in the Signal Corps, which is responsible for all of the U.S. Army’s communications systems.
Pete served in nine U.S. states, as well as overseas in the Middle East, Africa, Central America, Vietnam, Korea and his native Germany—where he met Lydia, whom he married in 1965. She legally immigrated to the United States two years later.
After retiring from the military in 1984, Pete worked as a consultant in the telecommunications field—his “skill set,” he says—before forming Telecommunications International Inc., which provides satellite services to military units deployed overseas.
“I did things as a civilian that I had learned in the military,” says Pete, who transferred the company to two of his nephews in 2017.
The Diecks fell in love with the Valley while stationed in the Washington, D.C., area in the late 1970s, leading him and his wife to build a house at Bryce in 1995. The couple later found the winters there a little too harsh, however, and decided the colder months would be better spent in Florida.
“Best of both worlds,” Pete says.
Clearly, moving around has never been too tall a task for this battle-tested man. In the past decade, however, Pete has gone to battle in another way—against cancer. His ensuing conquest has been a victory not only for himself, but also for patients at the Hahn Cancer Center.
The Diecks were on vacation in Germany in 2007 when Pete fell ill with pancreatitis. Following an imaging scan, the military doctor who saw Pete informed him that he had a spot on his lung that would require immediate attention.
When he returned home to Virginia, Pete visited Winchester Medical Center and learned that he had lung cancer. To remove the tumor, the lower lobe of his right lung was removed.
“Both of my doctors said the military doctor in Germany probably saved my life,” he says. “Had it not been for the pancreatitis, we would never have known. Fortunately, the cancer was caught early. The Good Lord was with me.”
Pete’s health scare led the Diecks to look for a home closer to a hospital. While keeping their Bryce home for weekend use, they bought a villa in the beautiful Sunnyside community as their primary Valley residence.
This is when the Diecks came to appreciate Sentara RMH. In the years since moving to Sunnyside, they have received care at Sentara RMH for pneumonia, bee stings and other ailments unrelated to Pete’s lung cancer.
“The rooms are cheerful and bright, and there’s a nice view of the mountains,” he says. “Sentara RMH is a first-class operation.”
In 2011, the lung cancer re-emerged while the Diecks were in Florida. Pete underwent successful stereotactic radiation, a form of treatment that focuses radiation directly on the tumor, at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
Since then, he has gone for regular checkups, and the cancer has not returned.
“After five years they say the chance of the cancer returning is very slim,” Pete says. “But I feel better getting the checkups. The odds for a recurrence may be slim, but they’re not zero, and it doesn’t take much to get a CT scan.”
When the newest linear accelerator is in operation, Pete says, Sentara RMH will be “up to speed” with the latest technology in cancer treatment, which can save Valley residents lots of driving time when getting radiation treatment. In addition, the new technology shortens treatment times, so the accelerator can accommodate more patients.
Davies recognizes this as well.
“This gift enables us to offer a level of cancer care that’s unusual for a community of our size,” he says. “It will really make an indelible impact on the care we provide.”
The Diecks know well the importance of detecting cancer early, and they appreciate the need for medical professionals to have the best resources at their disposal. Their generous legacy will go on in the lives their gift will help to save.
“As we get older and reflect on the many blessings the Good Lord has bestowed upon us,” Pete says, “it becomes clear that it is time to share some of these blessings with others. Contributing to the purchase of this accelerator is one way to make that happen.”