On Thursday August 16th 2012 Florida Hospital for Children opened the first and only pediatric stem cell transplant unit in Central Florida. Stem cell transplantation (SCT) is a well established treatment for many otherwise fatal pediatric conditions. Allogeneic SCT involves the complete ablation of a child’s bone marrow with chemotherapy and/or radiation and replacement with donor stem cells from a volunteer bone marrow donor or umbilical cord blood (UCB) collected at the time of delivery. Autologous SCT involves the use of a patient’s own stem cells to replace the bone marrow after ablation with chemotherapy/radiation. Pediatric conditions cured with SCT include Leukemia, myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), bone marrow failure syndromes such as Fanconi anemia, hemoglobinopathies such as sickle cell disease (SCD), metabolic conditions such as adrenoleukodystrophies and , immunodeficiencies. Many non malignant congenital conditions in pediatrics can be cured with SCT.
Approximately 1100 pediatric allogeniec transplants are performed in the USA annually and about 100-120 of these occur here in Florida. About 50% of pediatric allogeneic transplants use UBC as the stem cell source and 50% bone marrow. There are three pediatric hematology/oncology practices in Central Florida and we were referring out 20-40 transplant patients per year to other facilities.
Kids Beating Cancer (KBC) is an incorporated philanthropic group whose objective is to be the resource so that no child diagnosed with cancer, or related life threatening diseases will ever be denied treatment. KBC’s CEO and founder Margarette Geddes was one such Orlando parent whose son was diagnosed with a life threatening illness (MDS), needed a stem cell transplant and had to be transferred out of state. Her extremely difficult journey and subsequent loss of her son is a powerful testament that a SCT unit was needed in central Florida. The partnership of a grieving mother with a mission and a hospital with a vision and commitment to the children of Central Florida led us to where we are today and the opening of the new unit; “The Kids Beating Cancer Pediatric Transplant Unit”
I received my stem cell transplantation training at St Jude Children’s Research hospital. I joined the team at FH to head the pediatric stem cell transplantation program about 18 months ago. I have a deep passion for families like Margaret. I have personally lost a close family member to cancer and really want to be the torch bearer of hope for families that have either failed standard therapies or require SCT for cure. I was immediately drawn to Margaret’s journey and story. I am committed that no child should have to leave home and travel far away for a SCT.
We performed our first SCT June 23 2011 and have performed 15 transplants so far. A passion of mine is sickle cell disease and we have successfully transplanted and cured three patients with sickle cell disease to date. Our new pediatric SCT unit is a beautiful 8 bed unit. The entire unit has a high efficiency (HEPA) air filtration system with positive pressure controlled rooms relative to the corridors and the outside to protect our patients. All the rooms are private, large and beautiful. We have age appropriate amenities patients and a family room for parents.
We have put together a world class team of nurses and support staff. Child life, psychology and social work. We are part of the Florida Hospital for Children and all the support physician services such as ICU, Pulmonology, radiology, surgery etc. are available to us. We have partnered with University of Chicago for nurse training and with Joanne Kurtzberg from Duke University for clinical consultation and patient care. We are off to a superb start and feel truly blessed that Florida Hospital has committed the resources and support to build this unit. It is a very exciting time here at Florida Hospital for Children and I am looking forward to increased patient referrals for consultation.
Article by Paul Gordon, M.D.
Dr. Paul Gordon is medical director of pediatric bone marrow transplant at Florida Hospital for Children.