Children’s Oncology Isolation Unit Opens in Pretoria
September 2015: CANSA officially opened its CANSA Tough Living with Cancer (TLC) Brian Davey Step Down Unit in September 2015, housed at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria.
The unit, which serves the Steve Biko, Unitas and Pretoria East hospitals, provides a sterile but family friendly environment where children can safely prepare for, or recover from, stem cell transplants and build up their immune systems, without risk of infection.
Says CANSA’s CEO, Elize Joubert, “In a typical stem cell transplant for cancer, very high doses of chemotherapy are used, often along with radiation therapy, to try to destroy all the cancer cells. This treatment also kills the stem cells in the bone marrow. Soon after treatment, stem cells are given to replace those that were destroyed. These stem cells are given into a vein, much like a blood transfusion. Over time they settle in the bone marrow and begin to grow and make healthy blood cells.”
Children recovering from such a transplant are still at high risk of exposure to infections and need to stay in isolation for some time. The time taken for this process to be completed differs from child to child and may also be further complicated should the patient develop graft-versus-host disease, where the procedure is not successful.
The unit caters for children being treated for all types of leukaemia. The patients and one of their parents or a guardian are accommodated for free if they are undergoing treatment at one of the three hospitals and are referred by a specialist. The aim is to shorten the hospitalisation period of the children, who are discharged when they are out of risk but still need daily check-ups. The step down unit doesn’t offer treatment and should a child relapse, he or she will be immediately re-admitted to hospital. The unit offers them easy access to the treatment units and treating doctors.
Many of the patients stay far from the hospital and otherwise have no choice but to be hospitalised for the complete period – using the isolation ward space and preventing the admission of other patients.
Home Away from Home
“Whether it’s before or after a transplant, it’s not an easy experience for any patient, let alone a child,” says Joubert. “That’s why we’ve worked to ensure that the unit is more like a ‘home away from home’ and have included the comforts that will make the patient’s stay as pleasant as possible.”
The unit can accommodate three children, each with one parent, at a time. Each room has an en suite bathroom and, as the children improve, they can start to move around within the lodge. In addition to the three rooms, two bedrooms have been converted into a TV room and a computer room. Another space has been converted into a visitors’ room.
Dedicated to the memory of Rotary Club of Benoni Van Ryn member late Brian Davey who suffered from acute lymphocytic leukemia, the unit is the result of the combined efforts and support of CANSA, Outsurance, KPMG and the Rotary Club of Waterkloof and Rotary’s sister club Inner Wheel.
“CANSA has been keen to address the challenge of setting up a facility such as this for some time,” says Joubert.
Together with its partners, CANSA revamped existing facilities at the CANSA TLC Nicus Lodge, used for general peadiatric oncology accommodation, into an environment more suitable for isolation recovery. The floors were replaced with epoxy flooring, the walls painted with an antibacterial paint and the kitchen work surfaces replaced with a durable material that is easy to clean.