New enhancements to our pediatric BMT unit help kids feel like kids, play like kids and just be kids.

Child Health | one month ago

Expanded Pediatric BMT Unit Makes Room for Freedom and Play

New enhancements to our pediatric BMT unit help kids feel like kids, play like kids and just be kids.

For some kids with cancer and blood disorders, a blood and marrow transplant (BMT), also called a bone marrow transplant, can be their best hope to beat the condition.

At Atrium Health’s Levine Children’s Hospital, we have one of the few dedicated pediatric BMT units in the Southeast, offering both physical and emotional care. Our unit treats cancers, as well as non-malignant blood disorders (like sickle cell disease) and immunodeficiencies. Our survival rates are in the top 10 in the country. And now, we’re taking things a step further to help kids in our BMT unit feel a little more at home – and a lot more like kids.

Launching in summer of 2019, Levine Children’s Hospital is expanding our BMT unit from four HEPA-filtered rooms to eight, with the hopes of adding even more down the road.

What’s a HEPA-filtered room?

These are rooms with filtration systems that clear out infectious things in the air, like spores and mold, which are big risks to patients with compromised immune systems.

“We’re trying to make it a home for patients,” says Philip Roehrs, MD, a BMT specialist and medical director at Levine Children’s. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Roehrs and his team (plus generous philanthropic funding and donations from the 2017 and 2018 Levine Children’s Hospital galas), patients will be able to leave their rooms and even interact with other kids in similar situations.

“You don’t have to feel like you’re just a sick kid”

A blood and marrow transplant works by replacing diseased cells with new, healthy cells, and in addition to the procedure, treatments and potential complications, kids undergoing BMTs face a less visible challenge: isolation.

Pastor Luke Johnson’s son Landen was born with a disease called primordial dwarfism (associated with DNA ligase IV deficiency). This condition is so rare only 38 patients have been reported to have it – two of which were treated at Levine Children’s, including Landen himself.

Landen underwent a BMT a few years ago, and Pastor Johnson remembers how difficult it was for his people-loving son to be cut off from the world. “You can make all the crafts in the world, and that’s not going to do anything to satisfy your desire to live life,” he says.

Dr. Roehrs and his entire team are doing everything they can to help patients like Landen feel more at home in the BMT unit. And what’s a home without play?

In addition to making it safe for patients to leave their rooms, the unit also has a state-of-the-art play area, with plenty of toys, game consoles and an “IT center” for older, more tech-savvy patients. This helps protect BMT patients from infection, while also giving them a chance to have some fun during recovery. It’s a gamechanger for kids who spend months of their life in the hospital.

“Part of recovery is being able to maintain a normal life,” says Dr. Roehrs. “This expansion really lets kids do that in a safe manner, while also improving their quality of life and outcomes.”

For BMT patients, feeling normal is sometimes what they miss most. “He kept saying, I want to feel normal again. That’s what was really hard for him,” explains Kerri Melton, whose teenage son Brayson underwent a BMT after battling a brain tumor.

Brayson, who used a stationary bike in his room every day of his recovery, is excited for what this expanded unit means for future patients.

“I feel like everyone will feel more normal, like you aren’t just trapped in your room the whole time,” says Brayson. “You can actually interact with people, and you don’t have to feel like you’re just a sick kid.”

“Interact with people,” adds Kerri, laughing, “and not just your mom.”

In addition to our enhanced unit, our partnerships with institutions around the U.S. allow us to continually offer the latest therapies. This includes the Isabella Santos Foundation MIBG Therapy Suite, which opened in 2018.

And the best part about our newly expanded BMT unit? As the only unit of its kind in the Carolinas, patients in our region don’t have to worry about traveling for the highest level of care. They can find it close to home, in a place that lets them feel like kids, play like kids and just be kids.