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An Affiliate in Tulsa: Eight is Great

By opening its eighth affiliate clinic, St. Jude enables Oklahoma-based children to receive care close to home.

By Chris Lewis; Photo by Shane Bevel Photography


Since its founding in 1972, the St. Jude Affiliate Program has extended the mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital far beyond the walls of the hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

To enable more children to benefit from the hospital’s research and treatment, the program has opened eight affiliate clinics in locations from Louisiana to Illinois.

The newest clinic, known as the St. Jude Affiliate Clinic at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis, opened in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last year. Considered a game changer for Tulsa’s pediatric care, the affiliation offers St. Jude experience and expertise to the children and families of Oklahoma.

By allowing pediatric hematologists and oncologists at the affiliate to enroll patients in St. Jude clinical trials, the clinic offers children more access to clinical trials in the region. In doing so, children can acquire medical care closer to home so that they may rarely, if ever, need to leave the state.

“Children in Oklahoma can acquire the same care that St. Jude offers— in a way that’s convenient for their families,” says Carolyn Russo, MD, medical director of the St. Jude Affiliate Program. “Without that option, patients and family members would have had to travel to Memphis for the majority of their medical care.”

Caroline McKinney smiles while holding a stuffed panda bear.

Home, sweet home

Caroline McKinney was able to remain in Tulsa with her four siblings during therapy. “Having a developed relationship with her hometown doctors and nurses, while also not having to travel back and forth, has given Caroline stability, as well as peace for our family,” her mom says.

Familiar faces, supportive caregivers

When 5-year-old Caroline McKinney was diagnosed with leukemia, her oncologist reassured her parents that she could receive the same type of treatment in Tulsa as she would in Memphis. Caroline’s parents say they were excited to learn that their daughter would be able to remain with her four siblings during therapy.

“Having a developed relationship with her hometown doctors and nurses, while also not having to travel back and forth, has given Caroline stability, as well as peace for our family,” says Caroline’s mom, Megan. “The support and love she received was a big deal for our family. We really got closer because of this journey, rather than being torn apart.”

During Caroline’s treatment in Tulsa, she has rarely been hospitalized.

“She’s surrounded by such a positive environment by being home with her older siblings, friends and the people who love her,” Megan adds. “There’s definitely a role to play in the stability of the environment around you.”

Ensuring high-quality care

In addition to offering patients and families medical treatment close to home, the affiliate is also participating with St. Jude in quality projects that aim to reduce the number of central-line infections that occur in pediatric cancer patients. Children with lowered immune systems are at high risk for infections.

The affiliate is also participating in a project to prevent low blood sugar levels in patients. Oftentimes, children with leukemia have procedures that require anesthesia. Prior to the procedures, they can’t have anything to eat or drink, which can make them cranky and cause dizziness and other problems.

“These are little toddlers who eat more frequently than grown-ups sometimes,” Russo says. “When they have to fast before procedures, their blood sugars can go down. This project is designed to eliminate that issue and ensure the children receive the best possible care.”

The St. Jude Affiliate Program cares for children in:

St. Jude has affiliate clinics in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Charlotte, North Carolina; Huntsville, Alabama; Johnson City, Tennessee; Peoria, Illinois; Shreveport, Louisiana; Springfield, Illinois; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

A successful transition

To prepare for the transition of becoming a St. Jude affiliate, the pediatric oncology clinic at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis upgraded its services and facilities to improve patients’ experiences and align its environment to St. Jude models. The clinic’s new layout encourages patients and families to interact and get to know each other.

“It allows children to see that they’re not the only ones going through these hard times,” says Megan, who notes that the affiliate also covers medical costs that Caroline’s insurance doesn’t cover. “And they also have fun together and build relationships with one another.”

The affiliate has given the hospital’s nurses access to additional education and training.

“Excellent nursing care is the central hub of what we do,” says Greg Kirkpatrick, MD, pediatric hematologist and oncologist at the affiliate. “Our staff can now go to St. Jude to take advantage of seminars and other educational opportunities.”

As Megan reflects on the transition process, she is thankful for the changes, along with the progress that has occurred because of the affiliation.

“We are pretty enamored with the clinic,” she explains. “The staff has saved our daughter’s life, and they continue to love on her every day.” 

From Promise, Winter 2018

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