Courtesy of NorthJersey.com
Dr. Burton Appel remembers when he wrote a college letter of recommendation for a patient. Not an uncommon request for most physicians. But this one is particularly noteworthy for Dr. Appel.
When the now college sophomore was three years old, Dr. Appel treated him for leukemia. The boy, Peter Bernhard, 19, of Waldwick, has been in remission for years and is considered cured of the disease.
It is such a pleasure to see him grow and develop into the young man he is,” said Dr. Appel, attending physician in the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology (Children’s Cancer Institute), Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center, Hackensack.
Bernhard, who sees Dr. Appel once a year for follow ups, said the treatment process was upbeat thanks to Dr. Appel.
“He even helped make it fun. He’d race me down the halls,” Bernhard, who attends Stockton University said. “He’s not just my doctor. He’s also my friend.”
A diagnosis of pediatric leukemia, or other childhood blood disorders, can be devastating news to a family. However, hospitals, such as HackensackUMC, offer advanced methods of treatment in an area of the facility designed specifically for children and their families. Hospitals, including HackensackUMC and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, in Englewood, also help children deal with the emotional impact of various types of medical testing, exams and treatments.
The research team at HackensackUMC’s Children’s Cancer Institute has access to more than 100 clinical trials. The Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital provides medical and surgical pediatric care in more than 30 specialties, including blood and marrow transplantation, cardiology and pediatric cancer and blood disorders. Dr. Appel said he helps children from newborn to the young adult age of 22.
Blood Disorders in Children - Progress and Hope
Blood disorders, such as leukemia, starts in the blood forming tissue. The cancer cells overcome and replace normal blood and marrow cells (www.cancercenter.com). Blood carries oxygen, vitamins and other necessities to our tissues. When compromised, patients can experience such symptoms as easy bruising, fatigue, fever, chills and frequent infections.
Leukemia is considered the most common cancer in children and teens, according to the American Cancer Society. Other blood disorders in children include various types of anemia, when patients have fewer healthy red blood cells than normal.
In general, the treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) in children has advanced and changed enormously since the 1960s, Dr. Appel said. Chemotherapy medicines can now cure more than 80 percent of children with ALL, compared to about four percent in the 1960s. About three out of four types of childhood leukemia are acute lymphocytic leukemia, with the remaining being acute myelogenous leukemia (AML).
Basic treatments for leukemia include various types of chemotherapy. One procedure, called photophoresis, can filter a patient's blood to help reduce the side effects of a bone marrow treatment, Dr. Appel said.
The high cure rates can be attributed to the many clinical trials performed nation-wide, Dr. Appel said. New drug combinations are tested on patients, where they can be refined and perfected. Dr. Appel said parents often find it reassuring that treatments have been tested on thousands of children in similar situations.
"That's really how progress is made. They are building on the successes of the past," Dr. Appel said. "Childhood leukemia is a treatable and curable disease."
Keeping Life Normal for Pediatric Patients
Hospital visits can be overwhelming for children, their siblings and their families. Creating an atmosphere that is supportive, while child friendly, is key.
Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, for example, features a Child Life Program. The program helps ease anxiety and stress before medical procedures or hospitalization for children and their families. A certified child life specialist works with children to explain all the procedures he or she may undergo at the hospital.