By David Kram, MD, Medical Director of the Brenner Pediatric Brain Tumor Program
Brain cancer is the most lethal of childhood cancers. While it's not the most common cancer diagnosed in children (it takes second place), it does affect its victims profoundly. That's why the need for comprehensive, state-of-the-art pediatric neuro-oncology is so critical—and why Brenner Children's is meeting that need.
The Pediatric Brain Tumor Program benefits the children of our region, as well as the advancement of health care in our community, in the following important ways:
Integrating care for patients. Patients with brain and spinal cord tumors can be very sick and have complicated cases. They need a variety of specialists to take care of them. Our clinic integrates that for them, clustering their care so that when they come to the hospital—whether it's from five minutes away or two hours away - they can see everyone they need to see in the same visit. So when they come to our clinic, they'll be seen by a pediatric neuro-oncologist (me), a pediatric neurosurgeon, a pediatric neuropsychologist and, if needed, a genetic counselor and a pediatric endocrinologist. Additionally, our social worker, Child Life expert, counselor and our schoolteachers are all embedded in our clinic and program. Most importantly, all care received in the Brain Tumor Program—from diagnosis to management—is cutting edge.
Offering rare or one-of-a-kind resources and services
We are one of only two programs in the state that offers the kind of comprehensive care that takes care of all of a patient's needs in one place, and we're the only pediatric brain tumor program that offers full genomic profiling on all pediatric brain tumors. This service provides patients with a more precise diagnosis and opens the doors to more individualized treatments. In our clinic, we aren't only determining what kind of tumor is being evaluated; we're also examining what the patient's genes are saying about the tumor. This is a standard service we offer at no extra cost to the patient.
A priority of our program is to conduct and participate in research aimed at curing childhood brain tumors and optimizing the outcomes of survivors of childhood brain tumors. I am working alongside the experts in the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) to develop unique and exciting new models of pediatric brain tumors. These models will be incredibly useful in studying how pediatric brain tumors arise, evolve, respond to treatments, become resistant to treatments, and how treatments may impact other parts of the brain and body. We hope that our discoveries will forever change the treatment, toxicities and survival of these devastating tumors.
Collaborating with other experts
As knowledgeable as I think we are, the diseases we treat are complicated … and very rare. It really takes a collaborative team, so we rely on local, national and international experts to ensure that our patients are receiving the best care possible. Our Pediatric Brain Tumor Program is part of the powerhouse Brain Tumor Program in the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, and this access benefits our patients. We discuss each of our patients at a weekly neuro-oncology tumor board conference held in the Comprehensive Cancer Center in order to get other experts’ opinions. We're also members of several different national and international consortiums, which is good for our patients in terms of their access to resources and clinical trials. And finally, our community of pediatric neuro-oncologists is a small one, so we regularly and commonly talk with one other to get second, third and even eighth opinions on tough cases.
Our research endeavors also serve to raise the national profile of Brenner Children's Hospital and Wake Forest Baptist Health, which we can leverage not only for research but also for attracting high-quality students and providers. The more world-class specialists we have, and the more precise focus we have, the better education we can provide learners. This will benefit our community in all spheres of health care, including our growing Brain Tumor Program.
Providing a caring atmosphere
Patients can get state-of-the-art care here, but I believe that what really makes us stand out is, well, us! We are a warm, loving, emotive, and supportive group, and we care for each and every one of our patients and their families individually. I didn’t create this amazing culture; it was here when I got here, and I’m just delighted to help continued it. After moving here three years ago, I immediately recognized the very personal feel here. There's just no ego—our people provide a one-on-one experience that's authentic. Many things evidence this, but one that stands out has been our participation in the St. Baldrick's fundraiser each year. This past year, I was able to participate and had my head shaved by the mother of a late patient of mine. For all our advancements and research, it still always comes back to one thing: our patients. We're proud to offer our region a clinic that brings all of these necessary elements together.
At Brenner, we all have one vital thing in common—care. We are dedicated to meeting the unique and individual needs of your family, because there is nothing more important than the well-being of your child. Together, we are setting the highest level of pediatric care.