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When Dr. Mae Dolendo has a particularly difficult case, she presents it to a tumor board with specialists from around the world who can offer expertise on the best treatment plan. But sometimes the internet is so spotty and unreliable where she is in Davao City, Philippines, she can’t see the scans or hear the doctors talking.
“There was a time when we didn’t have internet for almost two days, and it was truly scary because that’s how many of our patients in shared-care facilities communicate to us,” said Dolendo, who is a practicing pediatric oncologist in Davao City, Philippines, and founder of House of Hope Foundation for Kids with Cancer Inc., a non-profit charity that supports pediatric cancer patients there.
But that will soon change.
Philanthropist Jared Isaacman, commander of Inspiration4 — the history-making, first all-civilian mission to orbit in 2021 that benefitted St. Jude — and commander of the Polaris Program’s upcoming Polaris Dawn mission, donated Starlinks for St. Jude Global partners in five countries.
Each partner hospital from around the world – and their correlating non-profit foundations – received a Starlink and high-speed, low-latency broadband internet service.
The first countries selected to receive the Starlinks included the Philippines, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Mozambique (when service is available in country).
Isaacman and the Polaris Dawn crew delivered the first Starlinks to the Southern Philippines Medical Center-Davao City and its non-profit partner foundation House of Hope in April.
One of the core tenets of the Polaris Program is trying to solve problems here on Earth while building a better future for tomorrow. That’s why St. Jude is their charity partner and beneficiary of their efforts.
“The Polaris Program is proud to continue partnering with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and help support its vision that no child should die — anywhere — in the dawn of life,” said Isaacman.
“We’re aiming to raise not only awareness for the challenges that exist today while further advancing the lifesaving mission of St. Jude but also helping raise funds critical for its mission and their important objectives. If we’re going to get to the Moon or Mars someday, we better have conquered childhood cancer along the way.”
I believe that having a good internet connection will allow us to reach these kids, to communicate with doctors on the ground and to guide their treatment, to save lives and to decrease suffering for patients everywhere.
Dolendo is excited for what’s to come.
I believe that having a good internet connection will allow us to reach these kids, to communicate with doctors on the ground and to guide their treatment, to save lives and to decrease suffering for patients everywhere. Dr. Mae Dolendo
Strong, reliable internet will help support the St. Jude Global mission by providing partners greater access to online medical conferencing, case and image sharing, and diagnostic assistance.
“Collaboration and innovation have always been at the core of St. Jude,” said Richard C. Shadyac Jr., President and CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “This generous gift from our friend Jared and the Polaris Program will provide a critical lifeline of communication that will help save the lives of more kids around the world.”
In Chile, more reliable internet will mean better care for pediatric cancer patients in a country where there’s no way to predict when the internet might crash. Pediatric oncologists could be in the middle of accessing a patient’s record, and the information they need is suddenly unavailable.
“Imagine a chemotherapy that is not registered (electronically) and that has already been infused into the patient,” said Dr. Marcela Zubieta, founder of Fundación Nuestros Hijos (Foundation for our Children) in Chile, a member of the St. Jude Global Alliance. “The clinical data is a legal instrument, and we must be on time delivering that data for the good of the patient, for the good of the institution.”
In Mozambique — where there’s a lack of awareness about cancer, inconsistent access to chemotherapy drugs and only one cancer treatment center for the whole country — unreliable internet can mean life and death.
Dr. Faizana Amodo, a board member of Associação de Paise Amigos da Criança com Cancro (APACC) (National Association for Children with Cancer), is the only pediatric oncologist in Mozambique.
"If I have good internet in our hospital, (it will help) to improve our treatment in our children and a (give) better result for our children."
Enabled by a constellation of low-Earth orbit satellites, SpaceX’s Starlinks provides high-speed, low-latency broadband internet service to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive or completely unavailable.
Last year the technology was used by Unicorn Marian Wilemski Clinic in Poland and other hospitals in Ukraine to help pediatric cancer patients whose treatment was interrupted by war. As part of the SAFER Ukraine humanitarian effort, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has helped ensure the continued care of more than 1,000 children. St. Jude supported long-established global partners in the region to get children to safety. The Unicorn clinic served as a triage center where hundreds of kids and their families arrived in convoys before making their way to hospitals across Europe and North America.
Recipients of the to-be-delivered Starlinks were selected based on a country’s approved licensing and government regulations of the technology, and a dedicated relationship with the St. Jude Global Alliance. With this new capacity, partners will be able to participate in education and training with St. Jude and with the region to improve healthcare quality and increase patient capacity; and share data and information.
Dolendo has high hopes for Starlink internet service and her continued partnership with St. Jude.
“I think St. Jude’s destiny is, really, to get to every child across the world,” she said. “And I think it is living Danny Thomas’ dream that every child with cancer should be saved, everywhere.”