Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children is opening a bone marrow transplant program with a $5 million gift from local a philanthropist.
The center will feature two private rooms with specialized ventilation to protect kids with weak immune systems.
This will be the second such program in Central Florida -- the other is at Florida Hospital with eight rooms.
Officials hope that the new program will help more kids in need of bone marrow transplant receive treatment in town instead of traveling to Gainesville or Tampa.
Stem cells in the bone marrow help the body remake its immune system, especially after the patient receives high doses of chemotherapy or radiation. Bone marrow transplants can be used for several pediatric cancers including neuroblastoma, lymphoma, leukemia, blood disorders where traditional chemotherapy hasn’t worked, and sickle cell disease.
Between 10 to 15-percent of children with cancer need bone marrow transplants, said Dr. Susan Kelly, director of the new program at Arnold Palmer Hospital. Patients have to stay close to the treating hospital for as long as 3 or 4 months.
Elyse Starling and her family had to live in Gainesville during the summer of 2007, when she received a bone marrow transplant there after her leukemia returned for the third time. She had received all her previous treatments at Arnold Palmer Hospital.
“I can't tell you how excited I am for this unit. It's really tough to move from your town and also away from family and friends, but also away for your second family and doctors and nurses,” said Starling, 24, who is now an operations project manager with Orlando Health.
The donation comes from Roy and Dee Haley, who have been long-time contributors to the hospital. With their donation, the cancer center also changed its name to Haley Center for Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders.
Roy Haley’s inspiration and interest in cancer programs comes from a child he met during his career as a businessman. The boy, now 22, survived a tough battle with cancer.
“It's hard to figure out how give away a lot money. You want to align it with your hopes and dreams. And my hopes and dreams are that we make dramatic progress in fighting cancer,” said Haley, 69. He recently enrolled in an online course about the science of cancer at the Ohio State University.
“With this kind of gift, we're all in,” he said.
Part of the Haleys donation will be used to develop the hospital’s cancer survivorship program. It will also help further develop the cellular therapy arm of the program, an evolving area in cancer treatment, which looks at targeting cancer cells specifically.
The construction of the center, located on the fourth floor of Arnold Palmer, is expected to begin in early 2016. The program is aiming to gain accreditation during its first year.