Locum to help fight against child cancer

21:38, Feb 17 2009
HEAVY BURDEN: Shanell and Jason Christian with their sons Kaleb, 11, and Jordan, 6, outside Christchurch hospital where their two-year-old daughter Kyah is being treated for neuroblastoma, a rare cancer of the adrenal glands.

A locum has been found to fill in when Wellington Hospital's last child cancer specialist leaves next month - but the long-term prognosis for paediatric oncology services in Wellington is still uncertain.
Blog: Growing up with cancer

Meanwhile, figures obtained by The Dominion Post show the region's boards have spent more than $43,000 on transport and accommodation for nine child cancer patients sent to other regions for treatment since Wellington Hospital was forced to close its doors to new patients in July because of staff shortages.

No claims had been made as of November 27 for two other patients sent to other regions.

The figures, released by the board under the Official Information Act, do not include treatment costs, which are likely to run to hundreds of thousands of dollars for the 11 children.

Shannell Christian, whose two-year-old daughter Kyah has been having cancer treatment in Christchurch since July, said the cost to families - the emotional, physical and financial toll - was even higher.

"If they got their act together up there, we wouldn't be costing them so much money," she said.

Advertisement

Wellington Hospital's child cancer unit - one of only three in the country - was plunged into crisis in July with the departure of one of its two specialists.

The remaining paediatric oncologist, Anne Mitchell, quits next month.

Capital and Coast's manager of child health services, Kaye Hudson, said a locum was due to start on January 15 for three months, with the possibility of extending his contract, and negotiations were under way with a South African specialist.

Capital and Coast has so far been billed $25,429.73 for transport and accommodation for six patients and their families - though the final tally is expected to be much higher.

MidCentral DHB has paid out $17,994.96 for three patients.

Ms Hudson said the board's policy was to pay for travel for the child and both parents or support people the first time. Thereafter, the board pays only for a second parent if there is a change in diagnosis or treatment, or some other circumstance requiring additional support.

"But it's a discretionary policy - there will never be a case in which a parent could not go with their child."

Treatment costs are paid by the ministry.

Ms Christian said that, without the practical support with airfares and accommodation at Ronald McDonald House, Kyah's long separation from her father and older brothers over the last five months would have been much harder to bear.

Since being diagnosed with neuroblastoma - a rare cancer of the adrenal glands - in July, the toddler has undergone surgery to remove tumours in her neck and abdomen, several rounds of gruelling chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a stem cell harvest and transplant.

She and Kyah have only been home for three short visits, but her father, Jason, had been down to see her every second weekend paid for by the board, while the Child Cancer Foundation has paid for Kaleb, 11 and six-year-old Jordan to visit on several occasions.

The whole family has been back together for the last couple of weeks.

Yesterday, the couple and their sons joined other child cancer families for a Child Cancer Foundation Christmas party at a park outside Christchurch.

Kyah is still in isolation following her stem cell transplant on Friday.

"She's pretty miserable at the moment," said Ms Christian. "When she's awake, she just wants me or her dad."

 

The Dominion Post