Last summer, 6-year-old Brett Sutherland learned how to swim without a life jacket and jump off the diving board—proud moments for the little swimmer from Missouri. The most gratifying part for his parents, however, is that he could acquire these skills in his hometown while undergoing treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Brett is a patient of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is a four-hour drive from home. But through the St. Jude Affiliate Program, he was able to receive most of his care just minutes away, at Mercy Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Missouri.
As a result, the little boy who likes dancing to Michael Jackson songs spent the summer sleeping in his own bed, playing his first season of little league baseball, and spending time with his parents and his older sister, Kately. Mercy Children’s Hospital is one of seven affiliate clinics where children can get most, sometimes all, of their St. Jude care closer to their homes.
Keeping families together
“Through our affiliate program, children with cancer or blood disorders can receive the St. Jude cutting-edge care, including clinical trials that have led to increased cure rates, in a way that’s convenient for the family,” says Carolyn Russo, MD, medical director of the program, which includes locations throughout the Southeast and Midwest.
The newest addition to the program is the clinic at Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina. The clinic opened in April 2015. “Families dealing with children with cancer have incredible stress,” says Randy Hock, MD, PhD, director of the affiliate. “Keeping them closer to home keeps families intact and prevents job loss.”
Brett’s mom, Laura, knows how much easier it is for Brett to get care in their hometown, because she spent more than six weeks in Memphis with him when he was diagnosed. Her husband, Ryan, took off from work for the first week. After that, he and Kately drove to Memphis every weekend.
“Being at home has kept us closer to our support system and has given us a way to connect locally with families who are traveling the same journey we are,” Laura says.
Children can get most, sometimes all, of their care closer to home
through seven St. Jude affiliate clinics.
Finding cures faster
The affiliate clinics enable St. Jude to share new treatments and support programs with more children and families.
“Increasing the number of affiliates gives us the opportunity to study newer forms of therapy more broadly and, at the same time, in a much more rapid manner,” says Larry Kun, MD, clinical director and executive vice president at St. Jude.
Through the affiliates, more children can take part in clinical trials, so doctors and scientists can develop new treatments more quickly.
Some children go to St. Jude in Memphis for clinical trials and then return to the affiliate for most of their care. Doctors at the affiliate clinics work with St. Jude doctors to fashion the best treatment for each child.
Expanding care to more regions
Russo and her team also support the affiliate clinics behind the scenes. They offer training and opportunities for the clinic staff to learn from one another at an annual meeting and through teleconferences and videoconferences.
“Learning is not only from Memphis to the affiliates; it’s also from affiliate to affiliate,” Russo says. Novant Health, for example, shared its progress in using their unique patient portal with the other affiliates.
About 250 new St. Jude patients visit the affiliate clinics each year, with the number expected to grow. In 2016, St. Jude plans to add an eighth affiliate clinic.
Laura says her family has built close relationships with their affiliate doctor and nurses.
“They feel like family now, and Brett looks forward to seeing them and his other St. Jude friends each week,” she says. “Our family is forever grateful for all St. Jude has done for us.”
From Promise, Autumn 2015