A Leader in Cancer Care for Kids

Krista and Marcus full size 2020.31.08
This image of Child Life Specialist Krista Huswald and Riley kid Marcus Neblett was taken prior to the coronavirus outbreak

When it comes to caring for kids with cancer in Indiana, there is quite simply no place like Riley.

As we begin Pediatric Cancer Awareness month, we applaud the dedicated Riley Cancer Center health care and research teams, as well as the donors who fuel their lifesaving work.

The vast majority of Hoosier children with cancer turn to Riley Children’s Health cancer specialists for their care. The Riley Pediatric Hematology/Oncology team treats children from all 92 Indiana counties and other parts of the country.

Here are just a few highlights from Riley’s cancer program, which has benefited greatly from donors’ generosity:

•    Indiana’s only nationally ranked pediatric cancer program
•    More than 300 new pediatric oncology patients each year
•    More than 13,000 annual outpatient visits
•    70+ open clinical cancer trials, providing kids access to promising therapies not offered anywhere else in the state
•    The state’s only pediatric stem cell transplantation program
•    Neuro-oncology program provides advanced care for patients with brain tumors
•    Indiana’s first and only center to offer childhood cancer patients CAR-T therapy―a newly approved treatment that genetically engineers the child’s cells to attack cancer
•    Close to 300 patients referred to Riley Precision Genomics―the only program in Indiana to offer individualized treatment for children with relapsed or aggressive cancer

Riley’s stellar cancer care reputation was a comfort to Sherri Neblett when she discovered her son Marcus needed to go into battle. “I had heard how great Riley is,” she recalled. “I wanted Marcus to have the best treatment, so when we found out, Riley was the first thing I thought of.”

Sherri describes her 3-year-old son as a “laid-back, cool kid.” Marcus’ personality has served him well during a difficult medical journey. Marcus was diagnosed with orbital rhabdomyosarcoma at 15 months old. Rhabdomyosarcoma is a rare cancerous tumor that forms in soft tissue – in Marcus’ case, around his eyes.

Riley Pediatric Oncologist Michael Ferguson, M.D., led Marcus’ treatment, including 46 weeks of chemotherapy at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, and five weeks of radiation. After a brief cancer-free period, Marcus relapsed last fall. He is nearly finished with his latest round of chemotherapy, which has lasted for nine months.

The Neblett family has developed a special bond with their Riley caregivers. “They’re like family,” Sherri said. “They watch your kids grow up. Marcus had barely started walking when he was first diagnosed.” She is especially grateful for Riley’s Child Life team—supported in large part by donors—for providing welcome distractions during lengthy appointments. “They always seem to come in right on time.”

Dr. Ferguson is optimistic that research will result in better treatment options to help kids like Marcus grow up healthy. He is collaborating on a study at the donor-funded Wells Center for Pediatric Research, using tumor cells from his patients to test new therapies. “This is vital work,” he said. “The research will help to define new treatments for patients with aggressive or recurrent sarcomas.” The $14.5 million dollars Riley Children’s Foundation granted to the research team last year has helped this “vital work” accelerate.

For now, Marcus visits Riley with energy and hugs to spare, and Sherri looks forward to the day when he rings the bell to signal the end of treatment. Sherri’s message for Riley Children’s Foundation donors who support her son’s care comes straight from the heart: “We love you!”

Riley Blogger

The Riley Blog is written and/or edited by members of the Riley Children's Foundation Communications Staff.

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