Dr. Brendan Kleiboer knows what it’s like to be a kid with a blood disorder and a young adult with cancer. Now, he cares for children at Levine Children’s who are going through what he did.

News, Child Health | one year ago

From Patient to Provider: A Doctor’s Special Bond with Kids

Dr. Brendan Kleiboer knows what it’s like to be a kid with a blood disorder and a young adult with cancer. Now, he cares for children at Levine Children’s who are going through what he did.

As a teenager, Brendan Kleiboer knew just what he wanted to be when he grew up: a pediatric hematologist. It seemed an unusually specific choice for someone at such a young age.

The inspiration for his ambition? His own pediatric hematologist. He was diagnosed as a child with a blood disorder, Von Willebrand disease, and she helped him cope with it. He wanted to help kids like that one day, too.

Today, Brendan Kleiboer, MD is among one of the newest doctors at Levine Children’s Cancer & Blood Disorders. He joins as – you guessed it – a pediatric hematologist.

The Empathy of Common Experience

It can be tempting to tell someone who’s sick that we understand what they’re going through. But Dr. Kleiboer offers first-hand experience of the conditions he treats.

Dr. Kleiboer knows what it’s like to be a child with a blood disorder. Von Willebrand disease, the most common blood disorder in the world, interferes with clotting. This condition puts children at risk of excessive bleeding. Even normal medical procedures – like his wisdom teeth extraction – became risky experiences that required additional care.

Dr. Kleiboer knows what it’s like to be a young adult with cancer, too. During his pediatric residency program, he was diagnosed with stage 1 testicular cancer, which was successfully treated with a surgery. During his fellowship training at the University of North Carolina, however, Dr. Kleiboer’s cancer returned. This time, it had spread to the lymph nodes in his abdomen. He juggled his pediatric hematology and oncology fellowship with chemotherapy and another surgery, somehow managing to complete the program on time.

Being a patient himself has affected his work as a physician. Dr. Kleiboer has felt the anxiety that comes with a diagnosis, and he recognizes that expert patient care requires compassionate conversation as much as innovative medical treatments.

“There’s a special power in being able to say, ‘I don't just understand this from doing my job, but I literally and physically understand what it feels like to get that particular chemo medicine or to have to go through that surgery,” he says. “I think it lessens some of the anxiety that both patients and parents feel when they know that they're talking to somebody who’s been where they are.”

Promising Advancements in Pediatric Treatments

This is an exciting time to work in pediatric hematology and oncology, Dr. Kleiboer says. Promising medicines are currently in clinical trials, which offer hope for improved treatments and outcomes. On both the cancer side and blood disorder side of the program at Levine Children’s, led by Javier  Oesterheld, MD, doctors are finding the newest, best treatments to care for their patients.

“Clinical trials are a really exciting area that's been growing here at Levine Children’s under Dr. Oesterheld’s leadership because he really wants us to offer cutting-edge treatments for all kinds of conditions, both benign blood disorders and cancers,” he says.

Returning Home to Levine Children’s

Although he’s beginning a new role at Levine Children’s, Dr. Kleiboer is not new to the hospital. From 2014 to 2017, this was where he chose to do his residency training – and this is where he wanted to return to work. The doctors who mentored him then have become his colleagues now, in a setting that allows them to provide comprehensive care to children.

“We’re capable of providing patients with subspecialty care, and we have basically everything we need under one roof,” Dr. Kleiboer says. “This is a place where patients can come and get everything they need.”

While his residency at Levine Children’s and his fellowship at UNC gave Dr. Kleiboer the training required to fulfill a lifelong dream to become a doctor, it was his personal experiences that led to a deeper understanding and empathy for his patients.

“One of the most important things I learned is that each patient’s experience is unique, and there's no one-size-fits-all approach to supporting adolescents and young adults with cancer or blood disorders,” he says. “I share with my patients that I have been through a similar situation, but what worked for me might not work for you, and we're going to treat you the way that you need to be treated and support you the way you need to be supported.”

Learn more about Levine Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders.