Families of young people who need blood and bone marrow transplants will soon be spared the 120-mile journey down Interstate 10 to Tucson for treatment.
Mayo Clinic and Phoenix Children’s Hospital are expected to announce today the creation of the Valley’s first pediatric blood and marrow transplant program.
The collaborative effort and is housed at Phoenix Children’s Hospital as part of the hospital’s hematology/oncology unit.
The program fills a critical gap in area services that has meant an inconvenience for families and an interruption in the continuity of care provided by local pediatric oncologists, said Anne Tewksbury, spokeswoman for Mayo Clinic Scottsdale. Previously, the closest facility equipped to perform the procedure was Tucson’s University Medical Center. It was expensive, too, as families were often forced to relocate or commute: Marrow transplants typically require a five-week hospital stay, followed by four weeks of daily follow-up appointments. The Axfords of Scottsdale relocated to Tucson last summer while their 17-year-old son, Casey, underwent the procedure to treat leukemia.
“I missed my support system while I was in Tucson, and my husband could only visit on the weekends,” said Casey’s mother, Mary Axford.
Casey said he would have liked to have had the procedure performed at Phoenix Children’s Hospital because he was familiar with the facility and comfortable with caregivers there.
“It was rough my first week (in Tucson) because I was at Children’s Hospital for so long,” he said. “I knew every doctor, and I had good chemistry with the staff (in Phoenix).”
Phoenix Children’s Hospital has been interested in developing the program since 1994 to provide continuum care for pediatric cancer. It wasn’t until the population boom of the late 1990s, however, that another program became necessary. The hospital anticipates performing 40 to 50 pediatric marrow transplants per year.
“It’s expensive, Tucson’s facility is good and you don’t want to duplicate programs like that,” said Kimberly Ovitt, spokeswoman for Phoenix Children’s Hospital. “The programs are regional, and it’s population that typically drives the creation. We’ve grown, so now there is a need for a second regional center.”
Phoenix Children’s Hospital did not have the resources to create the program alone; it partnered with Mayo Clinic to offset costs and provide expertise.
“We wanted a collaborator who would bring something to the table,” Ovitt said.
Bone marrow transplants are performed by extracting marrow from matching donors. The bone marrow is transplanted into the recipient by blood transfusion. Patients with blood disorders, brain tumors, leukemia, lymphoma and inherited immune deficiencies typically require the procedure.
The program’s first bone marrow transplant was performed on 15-year-old Ashley Robinson of Phoenix to treat a blood disorder. Her mother, Elizabeth Robinson, said her family would have been devastated if they needed to travel to Tucson for Ashley’s treatment.
Elizabeth Robinson said her family would have been strained emotionally and financially had they been forced to relocate to Tucson.
“It would have been horrible,” she said. “I don’t know how we would have done it.”