A 16-year-old amputee skis down a slope on her own for the first time. A former star tennis player sidelined by bone cancer learns a new sport and makes his school’s golf team. An international patient enrolls in the in-hospital school and graduates with her class despite the months of treatment.
It’s “the art of the possible.” That’s how Peter Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., professor at the Children’s Cancer Hospital at MD Anderson, terms such milestones. But to these patients, they’re dreams they may not have conceived of coming true. These accomplishments reflect the support of patient health care teams and the generosity of those who partner with them by giving their time, energy and financial resources to the Children's Cancer Hospital.
The promise of hope
The art of the possible is a philosophy all faculty and staff of the Children’s Cancer Hospital adopt in some way. It’s seen in the intensity of researchers whose laboratory findings may mean a breakthrough in patient care. It’s seen in the patients’ smiles as they interact with biologists and animals at Houston’s Downtown Aquarium via videoconferencing. It’s seen in the pediatric oncologist’s eyes as he tells his relapsed patient there’s yet another clinical trial to try.
Within the past five years, dreams have become realities at the Children’s Cancer Hospital as more research has been conducted and published and as more clinical trials have opened. Today parents are part of everyday decision making, and patients spend more time out of the hospital thanks to the translation of inpatient therapies to outpatient protocols. The growing momentum has resulted in the Children’s Cancer Hospital jumping up eight levels in this year’s U.S.News & World Report’s “Best Children’s Hospitals” survey.
“To be ranked as the No.13 children’s hospital in the nation for cancer care is truly an honor,” says Eugenie S. Kleinerman, M.D., head of the Division of Pediatrics and the Children’s Cancer Hospital. “It’s taken a team effort to get us to where we are today. Now we’re setting our sights on a top 10 ranking.”
A five-year strategic plan promises even more changes to improve the overall experience for children, young adults and their families coming to the Children’s Cancer Hospital.
Building blocks for success
Over the next three years, the pediatric outpatient clinic and a new pediatric intensive care unit will move to Alkek Hospital’s ninth floor to join the existing inpatient unit. The expansion, as well as the addition of a diagnostic imaging suite for pediatric patients, incorporates feedback from families who are working with the architects throughout the design process. Parents on the Children’s Cancer Hospital Family Advisory Council have played a large role in guiding decision-making since the group’s formation in 2008.
“It’s so powerful to hear directly from the families who are going through cancer treatment with their children,” says Patricia Wells, director of family centered care. “They keep you focused and working on what really matters.”
Parents emphasize the education program, for example, as a differentiator for the Children’s Cancer Hospital. With the help of philanthropic funding, the education program is working toward accreditation as a national and international school for students in pre-K through 12th grade, something only a handful of hospitals in the United States can claim. This initiative will expand the current program’s comprehensive structure to include an early childhood program, English as a Second Language courses, cognitive therapy, parent training and more school re-entry services.
The Children’s Cancer Hospital is considered one of the largest pediatric cancer research hospitals in the nation. Over the past year researchers have presented their findings at the top international and national oncology conferences. Their discoveries relating to brain tumors, bone cancers, neuroblastoma, leukemia, cell therapy and survivorship issues have led to new therapies for pediatric patients.
“Our research no longer focuses on just finding a cure,” says Kleinerman. “It focuses on finding therapies that will eradicate cancer without the long-term side effects that past therapies gave survivors. Giving patients a quality of life while undergoing treatment and afterward is very important to us.”
Programs that provide comprehensive care for children and their families support the new therapies introduced in the clinic. Philanthropy plays a significant role as donors generously contribute portable electronics, pediatric parties, coffee for the family lounge, funding toward patient camps and other gifts that help patients and their families cope with cancer.
“The parties, the games and everything in between really help our patients take a mental break from their cancer treatments,” says Sheila Brown, child life specialist at the hospital. “They not only help the child, but they also ease the parents’ burden.”
Path toward a cure
While pediatric cancer is rare, it’s the leading cause of death by disease for children. Philanthropic gifts to the Children’s Cancer Hospital power the hospital’s lifesaving vision, advancing the current course of patient care and research while shaping a brighter future for children, adolescents and young adults with cancer.