Thursday, April 2, 2009

Locum to hold together Wellington's child cancer service

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1:53PM Friday Apr 03, 2009

Wellington, April 3 NZPA - Wellington's child cancer service will be held together by a locum specialist while the search begins for permanent oncologists to replace the husband and wife team who quit yesterday, only six months after starting work.

Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao arrived from Germany with their family last October to reopen the service which had been forced to close by the resignation of their predecessors.

For nine months, gravely ill patients were sent to Auckland or Christchurch for treatment.

Dr Chao was not prepared to discuss why they were quitting, but said she and her husband were "really sorry it's not working out".

Capital and Coast District Health Board today issued a statement acknowledging the "positive work" the pair had achieved in their short time at Wellington Hospital, but gave no reasons for their departure.

Dr Chao and her husband, a world-leading researcher into the genetic origins of cancer, will leave for the United States in August.

A paediatric oncologist had already been employed and would start work in May, initially as a locum, said the DHB's clinical director of child health services Graeme Lear.

An international recruitment search was under way to find suitable specialists to fill the permanent positions.

"We are very conscious about the on-again, off-again nature of the service and believe the solution requires an integrated national service with close links to Auckland and Christchurch."

The service manages around 25 new referrals a year and provides highly complex treatments that in most countries were not usually available in public hospitals the size of Wellington's, Dr Lear said.

"We acknowledge that this news may be of considerable concern to our patients and their families and wish to reassure them and future patients in the lower North Island that we are doing everything to ensure continuing access to best practices in clinically appropriate timeframes."

Child Cancer Foundation central region chairman John Robson said Drs Chao and Kratz had provided excellent treatment and their resignations raised concerns about the DHB's ability to deliver on undertakings about the stability of Wellington's child cancer service.


Cancer appeal week is all about the kids

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By LUCY VICKERS - North Shore Times
Last updated 05:00 24/03/2009


BRAVE BATTLERS: From left: Bianca White, Zavier Coulam, Tui McLeod and Erfan Bour at the car signing event.

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Four brave children with one very important thing in common met at a Child Cancer event.

Zavier Coulam, 5, Bianca White, 5, Tui McLeod, 6, and Erfan Bour, 7, all have the illness and came together to sign a car which will be raffled off for the charity.

The children donned their colourful beads of courage – one for each procedure they’ve undergone.

Tui, from Birkenhead, was diagnosed with a brain tumour in June 2007 after being paralysed down one side.

She has finished her treatment and doctors are hoping the tumour stays dormant. Tui has 191 beads.

Erfan, from Glenfield, and Zavier, from Dairy Flat, have leukaemia.

Erfan has more than 1100 beads and Zavier has 240 for treatments such as lumbar punctures and chemotherapy.

Bianca, from Albany, was also diagnosed with leukaemia – two weeks before her fourth birthday in 2007.

Her mum, Lea, was tying up her daughter’s hair before her ballet lesson when she noticed a swollen gland on her neck.

Blood tests revealed an abnormally high white cell count and Bianca was given an immediate transfusion.

In the first four months Bianca spent 65 days in hospital, 34 of those in isolation.

She has 960 beads.

More than 150 children are diagnosed with cancer each year. The Child Cancer Foundation provides support to children with cancer, their families and the health professionals who treat them.

They need volunteers for this week’s street appeal, phone 0800 4CHILD (0800-424-453), visit or email

Child cancer doctors quit

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By KERI WELHAM - The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 03/04/2009

CRAIG SIMCOX/The Dominion Post
HARD TRAVELLING: Wellington cancer patient Stephen Uelese and his mother, Marika Broad, endured months of fortnightly trips to Christchurch for treatment before the two doctors arrived.

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Wellington Hospital's embattled child cancer ward has been plunged into chaos by the resignation of two paediatric oncologists only months after they arrived to save the service.

Husband-and-wife team Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao have quit because of "insurmountable" problems less than six months after they moved their family from Germany to Wellington.

Their arrival enabled Wellington Hospital to resurrect its troubled child cancer service in full, after nine months of being forced to send gravely ill patients to Auckland or Christchurch for treatment.

Now, with the specialists' announcement that they leave for the United States in August, the future of the service is again uncertain. Parents of young cancer patients said they were devastated by the news.

Child Cancer Foundation central region chairman John Robson said: "Clearly there are some fundamental issues that have proved insurmountable to the new paediatric oncology team, which is a huge disappointment to us."

Mr Robson said the two specialists had provided excellent treatment. Their resignations raised concerns about Capital and Coast District Health Board's ability to deliver on undertakings about the stability of Wellington's child cancer service.

The board said it would comment today. Dr Chao said she was not prepared to discuss the couple's reasons for quitting, but said she and her husband were "really sorry it's not working out".

"It has been a pleasure caring for these wonderful families and these beautiful children," she said.

Dr Chao, an American, and the German Dr Kratz, a world-leading researcher into the genetic origins of cancer, were employed to replace Liz Hesketh, who resigned in July 2007, and Anne Mitchell, who quit in January 2008.

In the nine-month gap before their arrival, many patients from Wellington and surrounding regions had to travel to Auckland or Christchurch for treatment.

Marika Broad, of Wellington, had just 24 hours to pack and get her family on a plane to Auckland when her nine-year-old son, Stephen Uelese, was diagnosed with cancer in October 2007. They were in Auckland for six weeks, and then spent eight months travelling to Christchurch for fortnightly treatment.

"It was like going to hell and back," Miss Broad said yesterday. "Our children aren't getting looked after properly. They are getting shoved around the countryside when they have a life-threatening disease."

The board announced last year that it planned to recruit a third paediatric oncologist.


July 2007: Paediatric oncologist Liz Hesketh leaves for Australia. The unit closes to new patients because the hospital cannot guarantee clinical safety. Over the next 12 months, 45 children are sent to Auckland or Christchurch for treatment. Dr Hesketh later tells The Dominion Post she left because of "dwindling resources and a unit moving toward unsafe clinical practice".

January 2008: The sole remaining paediatric oncologist, Anne Mitchell, quits. Clinical support from Christchurch keeps the ward afloat.

October 2008: World-class paediatric oncology duo Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao move from Germany to run the service. The husband and wife team talk of wanting to raise their family in Wellington.This week: Dr Kratz and Dr Chao quit.