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It’s time to address the care of our children

In Tonopah, friends of the family of little Brooklyn Rose Bryan are doing all they can to rally on her behalf as the toddler goes through the arduous process of battling a kidney tumor.

The surgery on Sept. 11 at the University of California, San Francisco medical center was successful, the Tonopah Times-Bonanza reports, but radiation and chemotherapy began almost immediately a long way from the family’s Central Nevada home.

Residents of Tonopah are working to raise funds to support the family. (Tickets to a Sept. 28 steak dinner fundraiser are available by calling 775-482-4052.)

After learning of young Brooklyn’s challenges, I was immediately transported back that October day in 2004 that my 8-year-old daughter Amelia was diagnosed with brain cancer. Such news is every parent’s nightmare, to be sure.

That was nearly nine years ago.

Amelia survived two major surgeries, multiple regimens of radiation and chemotherapy, and the resulting paralysis that has left her needing to use a wheelchair to get around. Today she’s cancer free and working toward graduating high school.

I also noted with interest that the family of the child in Tonopah was being treated at a medical facility in San Francisco. Given the expertise at other hospitals and Nevada’s reputation for frontier medicine, that’s not at all surprising.

When Amelia was diagnosed, we traveled to Arizona for her surgery, then to Los Angeles for her follow-up care. In a few years we also paid visits to other facilities in California and as far away as the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

All that said, despite its reputation Nevada has a number of fine pediatric oncologists. The problem is, as families throughout the state well know, finding comprehensive care you can have confidence in is a great challenge.

In recent years parents of sick children have contacted me to express their utter bewilderment over getting their young ones treated by capable physicians without first making airline reservations or moving the entire family out of state.

I usually direct them to one of several dynamic nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping families with a pediatric cancer crisis. There are several good ones, but three I know well are Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada, the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation, the Nevada Chapter of the National Hemophilia Foundation, the Southwest Region office of the Leukemia &Lymphoma Society, and the Children’s Specialty Center and its affiliated Cure 4 Kids Foundation. (In full disclosure, I am a member of the Candlelighters foundation board.)

Parents can rely on several charitable foundations for information, support, and everything from plane tickets and money for rent to gifts and summer camps for their ailing children and traumatized siblings.

Although I hope you never need their services, they are staffed with dedicated volunteers who are glad to help provide information in a timely manner.

But that brings me to this column’s other message:

It’s long past time for Nevada to fund, build and embrace a comprehensive pediatric cancer center capable of serving our citizens whether they’re on a ranch outside Elko, making a living in Tonopah, or residing in the heart of downtown Las Vegas.

With a population at approximately 3 million, Nevada has no shortage of need. Unfortunately, it also has a long history of mediocre medical care for its children.

Blame it on boom-and-bust economic cycles or some other factor, the bottom line is we have not stepped up to demand better. So instead of having our children treated in our own state by a group of our own specialists devoted to improving the quality of life for Nevada’s most vulnerable citizens, parents often end up traveling hundreds of miles for treatment.

Nevada’s reputation as a medical backwater would surely be debated by some extremely capable and dedicated physicians who reside here and strive to make a difference, but there’s no question of the need to dramatically improve the availability of quality pediatric care.

It’s long past time to treat our young ones with the physician care they deserve.

The era of frontier medicine in the Silver State ought to be a thing of the past: If not for ourselves, then at least for our children.

Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at jsmith@review-journal.com or 702 383-0295.

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