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Dr. Gregory Brandt (left) helps patient Delaney Beard with
puzzle while discussing her status following radiation therapy.

September 30, 2011

Childhood Cancer Treated at SIU for 20 Years

Hearing that your child has cancer is devastating news for any parent.  Yet in today’s world of modern medicine, the prognosis is good for most types of childhood cancer.  Outcomes have improved during the past few decades, says Dr. Gregory Brandt, associate professor and chief of the pediatric hematology/oncology division at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield.

“Young patients who have been treated at SIU in the past several years for acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) have had an 86 percent survival rate,” says Brandt, who also is a member of SIU HealthCare, Simmons Cancer Institute at SIU and St. John’s Children’s Hospital.  ALL is the most common type of cancer in children.

Pediatric cancer has been treated at SIU and St. John’s Hospital in Springfield for the past twenty years.  Brandt says childhood cancer is rare, but it is very scary for patients and families. 

“Our focus is to help make our patients’ lives as normal as possible.  We interact with them on their own level rather than treating them like glass when they are here,” said Brandt.

“Dr. Brandt, Dr. Daniel Niebrugge and their staff have provided excellent care and treatment for our daughter, Annelise.  The entire clinic staff has great chemistry with her, which has made us feel comfortable during her treatment,” said mother Amber Welton. 

Annelise was diagnosed with ALL at the age of one year.  Her treatment began with Dr. Brandt while her father was deployed in Afghanistan.  After Zachary Welton returned to the U.S. and was transferred to Ft. Campbell, Ky., Annelise’s treatment moved to a cancer center in Tennessee.   “Annelise did not respond well to the clinic staff and environment there, so we now bring her back to Springfield once a month for treatment,” said Amber Welton.

“Patients can get the same treatment in Springfield as in the larger centers because we are a member of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG),” said Brandt. 

The COG membership allows Brandt’s patients the opportunity to enroll in national clinical trials.  Patients in the trials can benefit from treatments that show promise of improved cure rates and decreased side effects. 

Patients appreciate being treated in Springfield because it is closer to home so less time is spent on traveling.  At the larger centers, patients are often treated by residents and fellows, but in Springfield, Brandt and Niebrugge personally see and treat all of their patients.

“I don’t know what we would have done if we had had to take our daughter, Delaney, far from home for her treatment,” said mother Christy Beard of Raymond.  “It means so much to our family to have such good medical care here.”

Delaney Beard, age 4, was diagnosed with stage 4 high-risk neuroblastoma in December 2010.  She has had two stem-cell transplants in St. Louis, chemotherapy in Springfield and is now receiving radiation therapy.  “She is doing well considering all she has been through,” said Christy Beard.

In addition to ALL and neuroblastoma, other types of pediatric cancer treated by Brandt and his staff include Hodgkin lymphoma and Wilms tumor.  Treatment may include chemotherapy, radiation and possibly surgery.  “During the past year, a pediatric neurosurgeon has located in Springfield, so hopefully brain tumors in children now can be treated in Springfield as well,” says Brandt.

If patients need other therapies such as bone marrow transplants or are good candidates for phase I clinical trials that can’t be offered in Springfield, the SIU clinic helps patients find a center that can provide the needed treatments.

Cancer can strike children of any age, but the incidence goes up with age.  There is no known cause for the disease and no definite warning signs or symptoms.  “If a child or teenager has pain for an unexplained reason or if the pain is inconsistent with the degree of believed injury, they should be checked by their primary care physician, who may refer them to a pediatric oncolgist,” says Brandt.

Brandt’s clinical staff includes Dr. Daniel Niebrugge, assistant professor of pediatric oncology, nurse practitioner Justine Morgan, research nurse Carol Peterson and clinic nurse Kelly Cramer.  Niebrugge also sees patients in Effingham two days a week.

Brandt joined SIU’s faculty in 1995 after completing a three-year fellowship in hematology, oncology and bone marrow transplant at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.  He completed his residency in pediatrics and earned his medical degree, both at St. Louis University School of Medicine (1991-1988).  He is board certified by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  The SIU Pediatric Oncology Clinic can be reached at 217-545-7377.

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