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The Catalyst

Make it happen

By Jean Cecil Frick
Of South Carolina Business

If you know the lyrics to the song, “Oh Happy Day,” you know it is a song of rejoicing. If your child was diagnosed with cancer, needless to say, you would not feel like rejoicing. However, if your child is in need of a bone marrow transplant, you would be given new hope with a treatment available in South Carolina, thus allowing for a truly happy day.

One of the providers of that hope is Michelle Hudspeth, M.D., a pediatric oncologist at MUSC Children’s Hospital. Hudspeth is the director of the Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Program – the only one of its kind in the state.

A passion for pediatrics
Hudspeth grew up in South Carolina and has deep family roots in the Palmetto State. As a child, she knew she had the keen desire to enter pediatrics and recalls her father saying she would become a doctor one day. In fact, she is the only person in her family to ever go into the medical field, and it is a passion she takes very seriously.

She enrolled at Wofford College in Spartanburg for undergraduate school and went on to MUSC where she graduated at the top of her class. Hudspeth’s success led her to a pediatric residency and fellowship in pediatric hematology and oncology at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland.

According to Dr. Michelle Hudspeth children in South Carolina should not have to go out of state to get the best care. Hudspeth is passionate about connecting with her patients.
According to Dr. Michelle Hudspeth children in South Carolina should not have to go out of state to get the best care. Hudspeth is passionate about connecting with her patients.

At Johns Hopkins, she was honored by her colleagues with the David M. Kamsler Award for excellence and compassion in pediatric care. She also served as chief resident for the Johns Hopkins Harriet Lane Service, where she oversaw 80 pediatric residents and wrote chapters on hematology, immunology and oncology for the Harriet Lane Handbook, a best-selling pediatric guide.

In short, South Carolina was lucky to have Hudspeth return to her roots.

Hudspeth was recruited to MUSC in 2007 to lead and expand the stem cell transplant program. By 2008, the number of pediatric transplants had increased by 125 percent.

“The children of South Carolina are very lucky that one of our own, Dr. Michelle Hudspeth, a South Carolina native, returned to South Carolina and MUSC to provide the very best care for children with cancer,” said Rita Ryan, M.D., chair of the Department of Pediatrics at MUSC Children’s Hospital.

“Not only is she personally committed to this goal but she has built and is continuing to build and lead, frankly, a ‘top-tier’ A-plus pediatric oncology program that will serve our state and its children very well,” Ryan continued. “For example we are the only site in South Carolina that does pediatric bone marrow transplants and Michelle has now recruited a new faculty member, Dr. Amy-Lee Bredlau, who is a specialist in pediatric neuro-oncology and will lead our Pediatric Brain Tumor Program.”

MUSC Children’s Hospital is award-winning and has consistently been ranked in the U.S. News & World Report listing for the best children’s hospitals. Most recently, it was one of 80 facilities that made the rankings in at least one of the 10 specialties analyzed for the 2012 – 13 Best Children's Hospitals with rankings for cardiology and heart surgery as well as gastroenterology. There is no doubt that with the dedication of Hudspeth, hematology and oncology will one day be included as well.

Beating the odds
Hudspeth said, “Kids in South Carolina should not have to go out of state to get the best care.”
She couldn’t have said it better.

Childhood cancer is the No. 1 cause of death from disease in children in the Unites States, more than from asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, congenital anomalies and pediatric AIDS combined. It is the second leading cause of death in children overall, after accidents.

One of the biggest determinants of a child’s survival after a bone marrow transplant is their socioeconomic status, regardless of race. Twenty-four percent of all South Carolina children are below the poverty level, 28 percent in the Charleston region alone. South Carolina ranks ninth out of 50 states for the highest percentage of children living in poverty.

These statistics shouldn’t prevent a child from getting the critical care they need in their home state, and they don’t. It is a huge sacrifice for families when they are faced with a sick child and numerous days in the hospital. If they had to go out of state, they risk not getting reimbursed under another state’s Medicaid and furthermore they would have costly travel expenses.

There are approximately 75 new childhood cancer diagnoses seen annually at MUSC. Hudspeth treats between 25 and 30 patients a year with a blood or marrow transplant, and her division has served patients from 74 percent of the counties in South Carolina.

Providing new hope
Her enthusiasm for the children she treats is contagious. On the day we met, she had just wrapped up meeting with a patient who was going through his second bone marrow transplant, and she had promised him a bag of Skittles. As soon as she left our visit, she went straight to the sundry shop to take her patient his surprise.

If a child goes through a bone marrow transplant to treat cancer, there is a 100-day minimum stay within 30 minutes of the hospital. A child is most at risk for complications during this timeframe. Typically, the first four to six weeks are spent in the hospital. Imagine the strain that puts on families, but with care from doctors like Hudspeth, it makes daily life bearable.

Day Zero, or transplant day, is the day a child receives donated cells, wiping out his or her immune system. It is a transfusion with what Hudspeth refers to as a “little bag of hope.”

For many, this could be a day of fear and anxiety, but Hudspeth makes it a day of hope and tells children it is their new birthday – a day of rejoicing and singing “Happy Day Zero.”

Hudspeth said, “Day Zeros are the best part of my job. It is a new chance at life for the children I treat, offering them a renewed hope.”

The Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Program offers a number of clinical trials through the Children’s Oncology Group, the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Consortium, the Blood and Marrow Transplant Clinical Trials Network, as well as investigator-initiated trials.

MUSC Children’s Hospital is a member of the Children’s Oncology Group, the world’s premier pediatric cancer research collaborative. This network of more than 200 hospitals and 5,000 health care professionals is dedicated to finding answers and sharing results to cure cancer. COG members have been the primary innovators in new treatments for children with cancer.

Finding the perfect match
Another important part of providing a transplant is finding a tissue type or HLA match. Within families, a brother or sister only has a 25 percent chance of being a match. It can be especially challenging for minorities, as matches tend to run along ethnic lines and fewer minorities participate in donor programs.

For most, the best chance at survival is a transplant from an unrelated bone marrow donor or cord blood unit. Hudspeth looks at millions of donors across the world through the National Marrow Donor Program. She doesn’t take looking for matches lightly.

Knowing there is a tremendous need for more donors, Hudspeth decided to add her name to the national registry. Shortly after giving birth to her daughter, she was notified that she was a match for a 50-year-old mother of three in Philadelphia. Hudspeth became a giver of life to two people that year, practicing what she preaches.

Hudspeth’s motto is “make it happen” and MUSC’s outcomes prove that she exceeds all expectations. The program has outcomes well above the national averages.  In 2012, her patients had a 100 percent survival rate on both Day 100 and on their one year anniversaries for those receiving autologous stem cells. There was an 88 percent survival rate on Day 100 and 85 percent on one year anniversaries for those receiving allogeneic stem cells.

Having a world-class children’s hospital keeps South Carolina on the leading edge. As businesses look to locate in the state, the medical community can be proud knowing it offers the best care available to the state’s children and their families.

“To be able to provide this level of care to the state without families having to travel outside, I think, is a really critical mission,” Hudspeth states. “Our goal is really to provide them with any cutting-edge therapy they need that we can provide here and they don’t have to travel elsewhere.”

For any family faced with cancer, there is fear, but Hudspeth is passionate about providing hope and making it happen for the children of South Carolina.

Editor’s note: Jean Cecil Frick is the multimedia manager at the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and the editor of South Carolina Business. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2013 edition of South Carolina Business magazine and is reprinted with permission.

April 11, 2013

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