Published date: December 14, 2022
What is a new cutting-edge treatment program you provide?
We added targeted leukemia immuno-therapy this year. There are monoclonal antibodies specific to a certain type of leukemia, and one is called blinatumomab. We could not give that before this year, but we had a patient who needed it. I couldn't face them going to Little Rock for a 28-day infusion. We, as an institution, said, "We're going to learn how to do this." The Tyson Family Foundation gave us a grant to buy the special pump they needed. Then we got Medicaid to agree to cover the drug, gave it here and the child did great. Also, treating brain tumors here is a huge win for us. That is high-risk, high-reward treatment, and we're really proud of that. We usually treat about five patients with brain tumors each year at ACNW.
Tell me about Innovative Therapeutics and are those services available to ACNW patients?
There will be kids that have had recurrent cancer, and there is a targeted therapy that we'll identify. There may be a protocol through the group in Little Rock. We don't have our own Innovative Therapeutics group here because there are not enough kids who need it. We have kids that are receiving that care, and we're participating, but it's not being done independently from Innovative Therapeutics at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock.
What can families expect when they bring their child to ACNW for cancer treatments?
We're going to do everything for their child. It's a small facility; every single person who works here knows every other person. It's a really friendly, family-centered atmosphere. We have a small team of highly-trained, highly professional people. In the clinic and the Infusion Center, it's a small team focused on cancer care. On the inpatient team, we have a group of focused cancer nurses. ACNW is a place that is small in numbers but very friendly and high in expertise and skill, which you don't find in hospitals this size with a cancer program. In fact, it's unheard of to find a hospital our size with a cancer program this big. We have worked so hard. It's been our focus of the hospital's energy and fundraising.
Tell me about the Infusion Center and how it provides important care for patients?
Our Infusion Center has a couple of missions. One is to give blood transfusions. Every day, our experts perform red blood cell or platelet transfusions for kids who need that care. They can also give kids chemotherapy or biological treatment for cancer or a serious blood disease that doesn't require hospitalization. They treat children with rheumatologic conditions, gastrointestinal issues and immunodeficient kids. If we didn't have the Infusion Center, all of that would have to be an admission to the hospital or six hours round-trip to Little Rock. It's a big focus of the hospital. It's why we're expanding, so we can take more kids. I'm really proud of it.
A cancer diagnosis can be a scary, emotional roller coaster for families. How does ACNW care for families emotionally who are facing this?
The best thing you can give a family and a child on that roller coaster is a highly skilled and competent team. And I see this every time we have a new family. They come in scared, but then they realize we will take the best care of their child. On their first visit, they say, "This place is great. I feel comfortable here." We have this skilled, competent team and we project that. We also have a small, skilled social work team who help people navigate all the life changes that go along with a cancer diagnosis. Our Pastor Scott Martin, director of Pastoral Care, is fabulous. People love him, and he's an integral part of our team. We have two specialty nurses in cancer care who are consistently on the phone with parents talking them off the ledge, giving them information and making everything go right for them when their child is not in the hospital. I think all of those things together are great. It's an easy-to-navigate system that's highly competent.
The Comprehensive Hemophilia Center from Arkansas Children's Hospital (ACH) in Little Rock sees patients at ACNW every other month. What kind of year-round care do you provide for hemophilia patients at ACNW?
I work with hemophilia and bleeding disorder patients every day, whether it's diagnosing new patients in the clinic, treating their bleeds, or helping them through surgery. I have a big clinic of children with Von Willebrand disease, a typically mild bleeding disorder that presents with nose bleeds, dental bleeding, and bruising but a subset of those patients are teenage girls with heavy menstrual cycles and iron deficiency anemia. We work with the gynecologists from ACH Little Rock who travel to ACNW to help these patients with heavy menstrual bleeding. This collaborative effort has been very successful and we really change these patient's lives for the better.
Do you treat patients from other states for cancer and blood disorders?
I have patients with both cancer and non-cancer blood disorders coming from Oklahoma and Missouri, but primarily Oklahoma. SoonerCare, Oklahoma's Medicaid program, allows patients to see a specialist within 30 miles of the border. They come to us a lot. The pediatricians in Fort Smith have patients from Oklahoma towns just across the river, so they refer here. We see many kids from the Northeastern tier of Oklahoma. I see quite a few Native American patients from the Tahlequah area. They have some pediatrics over there, but no specialists. They tell me interesting things about their culture, and it's really cool.
You also treat many international patients, immigrants and refugees from several countries, including Afghanistan, Tanzania, Nigeria and Burma. What is that experience like for you?
It's so fascinating to hear their stories. Every one of those visits ends with, "Thank God you're here, thank God the hospital is here. We never got care where we were from. We didn't know what was wrong with our child. Now look how good they're doing." It breaks your heart to know what passes for medical care in the world. We're able to give them state-of-the-art care at ACNW.
You work seven days a week at ACNW. It's not required, but you do it anyway. Why?
I'll come in on a Sunday morning and they'll say, "We can't believe you're here. Thank God, you're here." Where else would I be? What better place would I be on a Sunday morning than with you? And it happens all the time when people come to the ER. They don't expect a hematologist to come to the ER on a Saturday afternoon. I tell them, "I'm here because you're here." And they're so thankful. "Thank you" is the most meaningful thing you could ever tell me. I'm just doing what God put me here to do.