Hadassah’s Pediatric Hemato-Oncology Department is Jerusalem’s only comprehensive child cancer unit. Its mission is to provide state-of-the-art care for children and adolescents with cancer and severe non-malignant hematological diseases. The Department gives them and their families the psychological support essential to help them deal with life-threatening illness. Each year, about 120 children and adolescents under the age of 18, newly diagnosed with malignancies, come under the care of Professor Michael Weintraub and his team, joining an even greater number of children already there for long-term treatment and follow-up. A third of those children have leukemia, 20% have brain tumors, and 15% suffer from lymphomas. About 75 percent of Hadassah’s young patients will recover fully, a rate similar to that at leading medical centers worldwide. Thanks to surgery and chemotherapy, curing cancers is now a realistic goal for the majority of these children.
The youngest patient to be treated at Hadassah is an infant, who was referred on the day she was born prematurely at 33 weeks gestation, with an abdominal tumor. “We must deal with her prematurity in parallel with her cancer (called neuroblastoma), which is a major challenge,” relates Dr. Weintraub. But, he adds, “This little girl actually has a good chance of being cured.” Another very young patient is a one-month old boy, with hereditary eye cancer. Hadassah is the number one center for treatment of this type of cancer.
The Department treats all forms of childhood cancer (about 10 types) as well as blood diseases–a very wide field including thalassemia, aplastic anemia, and genetic blood diseases–and severe disorders of the immune system. The latter often can be cured only through bone marrow transplantation.
The Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Department is the only Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplantation facility in the greater Jerusalem area.
Hadassah added a floor to its Charlotte R. Bloomberg Mother and Child Center, providing a new, state-of-the-art home for the Hemato-Oncology Department. It encompasses a center of palliative care for terminally ill children and their families, a crisis intervention center, and an area for grief counseling.
The Hemato-Oncology Department serves a large and heterogeneous population from diverse ethnic and psychosocial backgrounds. Children are referred from the greater Jerusalem area, as well as from other parts of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and overseas.
These life-threatening diseases are a crisis for the whole family,” says Prof. Weintraub. The children are very sick and often spend years with us, undergoing intensive and extremely difficult treatment. The quality of their lives is critically important–not only to the child and his family, but to us as well.”
The “Dream Doctors” Five medical clowns work in the Hemato-Oncology Department. Called “Dream Doctors,” they receive specialized training to work as part of the medical team. Raising moral, they make a significant medical impact on the children’s road to recovery and help parents and staff to deal with very stressful situations. Thanks to them, children are less frightened by their illness and by medical procedures. As one “dream doctor” says, “Getting a laugh or a smile, taking someone out of his pain or illness, even for a few minutes, is one of the most invaluable things I know of.”
Because communication is key to successful emotional support, the clowns, as well as the psychologist, social workers, and therapists are collectively fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, and English.