Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cancer children coming home

By RUTH HILL - The Dominion Post | Thursday, 16 October 2008


SETTLING IN: Wellington's new child cancer specialists Mwe Mwe Chao and her husband, Christian Kratz, don't have any patients yet. They toured the paediatric ward and met Victoria Jacobs, 7, who has rheumatoid arthritis.

There was no obvious upside when Wellington's two child cancer specialists quit.

But it did create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for one medical couple and Wellington now has two world-class clinicians.

United States-born specialist Mwe Mwe Chao said she and her husband, Christian Kratz, arrived on Sunday.

They worked together at the University of Freiberg Hospital in Germany and were in the unusual position of "looking for the same job in the same place".

"We thought it [New Zealand] would be a wonderful place to raise our family." The couple have a 21-month-old daughter, Matilda.

Dr Kratz said they were also excited at the prospect of rebuilding the service.

"All the staff are very motivated and there's a lot of positive energy."

With the resignation of Liz Hesketh in July last year, the unit - one of three child cancer centres in the country - was forced to send patients to Auckland or Christchurch.

The last remaining specialist, Anne Mitchell, stepped down in January.

Dr Chao said there were big challenges ahead.

"Part of the problem is New Zealand is small and paediatric oncology - fortunately - is also small, and that presents problems for practising physicians ...

"But I think the health board has done a really good job of organising everything, there's strong commitment from staff and everyone is ready to go."

Dr Kratz also plans to continue his world-leading research into the genetic origins of cancer.

The health board hopes to recruit a third specialist.

The couple hope all Wellington families will be home by the end of November.

Johnsonville mother Shanell Christian, whose daughter Kyah was diagnosed with cancer 15 months ago, said she was relieved that other families would not go through the same trauma her family had suffered. They were sent to Christchurch less than 24 hours after Kyah was diagnosed with a rare cancer of the adrenal glands.

She endured major surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy and weeks apart from her father, Jason Milne, and two brothers.

The family learned last month the cancer had returned and Kyah was unlikely to see her third birthday on November 3.

"We're just enjoying the days we have left with her," Ms Christian said.

"It's too late for us, but I'm so glad that other families will not have to go through the trauma we suffered.

"When you have a sick kid, you don't want to have to leave home."

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