Diamond Children’s Cancer Center

New $3 Million Clinic Opens for Specialized Care

By Loni Nannini

Banner Health recently provided a life-changing infusion for pediatric cancer patients and their families: a $3 million investment in Diamond Children’s Cancer Center, a state-of-the-art outpatient clinic that opened in April.

The clinic offers a hospital-based hub featuring comprehensive care and therapies for children undergoing treatments for cancer, blood disorders and other serious diseases. The 7,600-square-foot space is located adjacent to Diamond Children’s Hospital.  

“Our vision across all of Banner is to bring comprehensive care to patients whenever possible rather than asking patients to go to multiple places to receive the complex care they need, and this clinic is designed to do just that,” said Dr. Chad Whelan, CEO of Banner – University Medicine Tucson. 

That vision is implemented through leading-edge care for kids and young adults up to age 29, said Dr. Emmanuel Katsanis, chief of the Tucson-Phoenix Integrated Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and director of the Banner/University of Arizona Cancer Center Hematopoietic Cellular Therapy and Transplant Program.

“A few years ago when the new hospital was built by Banner, some of our families spoke up and said they needed a clinic,” Katsanis said. “Even though there was no space, Banner listened and, somehow, a space that used to be a gym has become a beautiful new clinic. Now, we have the only pediatric oncology clinic in Southern Arizona, which is attached to Diamond Children’s where we treat our inpatients.”

Regimens for children undergoing cancer treatments are more intensive than adult protocols and can frequently result in hospitalizations. Many patients also experience suppressed immune systems and resulting infections that can require inpatient care. The hospital offers a blood bank for transfusions and the equipment and specialists required for complex bone-marrow transplants. 

The new clinic sees an average of 30 patients daily and features both semiprivate and private transfusion and procedure rooms with custom-designed recliners and televisions “to make what can be very long, hard days just a little easier,” Whelan said.

Also offered are private exam rooms, kid-sized furnishings, gaming systems and administrative offices. The welcoming atmosphere is highlighted by colors and shapes. A vibrant 900-square-foot outdoor mural by Tucson artist Joe Pagac is visible from many of the spaces. The mural was coordinated by DPR Construction, the general contractor on the Cancer Center, and Matt Thrower, DPR’s project executive. 

The ability to offer specialized cancer care and access to clinical trials in the technically advanced, kid-friendly space is a dream come true for Katsanis, who has overseen growth of the hematology/oncology program since 1997. In the past two decades, it has evolved from shared space in the general pediatric ward to an entity that provides state-of-the-art pediatric hematology and oncology services, infusion therapy, immunotherapies and groundbreaking pediatric hematopoietic transplant and cell therapies.

Under his direction, the cancer center has also garnered a national reputation for its pediatric haploidentical bone marrow transplant program. 

A haploidentical – or “half-matched” – transplant is a partial match attained most often from a parent, while a full match can possibly be found from a sibling or unrelated donor registry. Katsanis said chances of finding a full match from the registry are close to 80% for those of white or Northern European backgrounds. They drop to 45% for Native Americans, 35 to 40% for people of Hispanic descent, and less than 20% for African Americans. 

The center has now performed close to 50 pediatric haplo-bone marrow transplants with the best outcomes in the nation. “Our survival rates are greater than 90% and equivalent to matched sibling transplants. While our outcomes are excellent, haplo-BMTs are complex and, therefore, should be performed in centers with experience such as ours,” he said.

Katsanis also spearheaded a collaboration between Diamond Children’s Cancer Center, Banner Children’s at Thunderbird in Glendale and Banner Children’s at Desert in Mesa.

The fully integrated division includes 10 pediatric hematology-oncology physicians and 10 pediatric oncology nurse practitioners who work with patients and families and provide services that include stem cell transplantation,  CAR-T cell therapies and other immunotherapies. 

The integration of the Banner facilities with the implementation of Phase I, II and III clinical trials through the Children’s Oncology Group and Pediatric Transplantation and Cell Therapy Consortium and the University of Arizona Cancer Center opens up additional opportunities for patients. 

“We have the only pediatric hematology-oncology and hematopoietic cell therapy and transplant program in Southern Arizona,” Katsanis said. “We continue to get referrals from outside of Tucson and even from out of state.” 

DPR Construction was the General Contractor for this project.

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