By Daniel Casciato

The Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital is South Florida’s first and most experienced care provider for children requiring blood or bone marrow transplantation.

As one of only two pediatric blood and marrow transplant centers in South Florida, they perform more than 30 blood and marrow transplants per year and a total of 400 since its inception in 1991. Bone marrow transplant is now commonly referred to as stem cell transplant because they are using other sources of stem cells, and not only bone marrow, such as cord blood.

Dr. Jorge Galvez-Silva

“We treat children under the age of 21 years old for several conditions, such as leukemia and lymphoma and other types of tumors and malignancies,” says Dr. Jorge Galvez-Silva, director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, and member of the KIDZ Medical Services team, a physician-owned multispecialty group that provides neonatal, pediatric and obstetrical healthcare throughout South Florida. The KIDZ team of dedicated pediatric subspecialists, advanced practice providers, nursing and hearing professionals works in more than a dozen hospitals, including Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.

The Blood and Marrow Transplant Program’s experience and dedication to quality and in-depth staff training continues to drive outcomes that well exceed predicted outcomes. It was originally accredited in 2003 by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapies (FACT) for all aspects of blood or marrow transplantation (cellular therapy). The program continues to meet the rigorous FACT standards, having achieved its most recent reaccreditation in 2020. FACT accreditation is given to organizations that exceed standards in patient care and laboratory practices.

“Another issue that differentiates us from other programs is that we are located in a fully dedicated, freestanding children’s hospital with a multidisciplinary group of experts, each offering specialties that are really relevant for the wellbeing of the kids undergoing bone marrow transplants,” Dr. Galvez says.

At Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, the KIDZ Medical team provides state-of-the-art intervention and therapies with a level of clinical experience and patient-focused support that is unparalleled in the region. KIDZ Medical is instrumental in the hematology/oncology, pulmonary, and genetics program in the hospital.

What makes the program so successful can be summed up in one word, notes Dr. Galvez.

“Collaboration. We have strong teamwork and collaboration,” he says. “The main reason we work well together is because we put the patients and their family needs first. Every program puts their patients first, of course. But bone marrow transplant is so complex that you need to have an open collaboration with different specialties on your team, and with the patients and family. That translates into great outcomes.”

Dr. Ossama Maher

The key measure of success for any bone marrow transplant program is the survival of the patients, according to Dr. Ossama Maher, co-director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program and also a member of the KIDZ Medical Services team.

“Over the last three years, we’ve been averaging between 95 to 100 percent survival,” he says. “The national average for a program our size is 75 percent. So our program is doing exceedingly well.”

The program has continued to expand over the past few years.

“When Dr. Galvez and I joined KIDZ Medical, we had the dream and ambition to expand the program by offering transplant options for other medical conditions. Historically, transplants were only for kids who had leukemia. The scope of pediatric diseases treatable by stem cell transplant-bone marrow transplant now includes, in addition to malignant disorders such as high-risk acute leukemias and solid tumors, a wide range of hereditary conditions, including storage and metabolic disorders, hemoglobinopathies, and immune deficiencies.”

Dr. Maher notes that Florida Blue and several insurance companies have recognized the program with the Blue Distinction Center® designation and Center of Excellence for transplantation for delivering high-quality bone marrow transplant care as part of the Blue Distinction Centers for Specialty Care® program. This designation is based on the delivery of quality specialty care based on objective, transparent measures for patient safety and health outcomes developed with input from the medical community. In addition, it has been recognized as a center of excellence by Blue Cross, Aetna, Simply, Optum, and Humana.

Looking ahead, Dr. Galvez’s hopes for the future of the field is that they will be able to cure all children with cancers.

“Stem cell therapy is a rapidly evolving field. We’ve come a long way from our first attempts to cure various severe conditions, and as we get more successful at it, the community of stem cell therapists want to achieve survivability with less toxicities, so every child can live a normal life,” he adds.

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