This year marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Children's Cancer and Hematology Clinic in McAllen. The clinic has made a difference in the lives of thousands of children and their families over the last decade and has brought cancer treatment in the Rio Grande Valley into the 21st century.

The clinic was created through a joint effort of the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Cancer Foundation Inc., Baylor College of Medicine and the Texas Children's Cancer Center. Its goal is to ensure that local children who suffer from cancer and blood diseases receive the most up-to-date care and treatment without the need to leave the region and regardless of ability to pay.

State-of-the art care for children in South Texas

"It has really been an honor and a privilege for BCM and TCCC to have participated in the development of the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Children's Cancer and Hematology Clinic," said Dr. David Poplack, professor of pediatrics – hematology/oncology at BCM and director of the Texas Children's Cancer Center in Houston.

"We're extremely proud of our partnership and extremely pleased to have been involved in a highly successful endeavor that has brought state-of-the-art care to children with cancer and blood diseases in South Texas."

Over the last 10 years, more than 5,000 children have been treated at the Vannie Cook Clinic. Many of these patients previously would have traveled to San Antonio or Houston for their treatment, a hardship physically, emotionally and financially for them and their families. The clinic is led by medical director Dr. Juan Carlos Bernini and by Dr. Rodrigo Erana, both assistant professors of pediatrics – hematology/oncology at BCM, along with a pediatric nurse practitioner, a staff of registered nurses, social workers, clinic technicians and administrative support.

Every child deserves a chance

"At the Vannie Cook Clinic we believe that nothing is of greater importance than caring for children with cancer. We are dedicated to ensuring the best care possible and hope that researchers find a cure for this devastating disease," said Bernini. "Every child deserves a chance for a healthy and happy life."

The family-oriented facility includes a chemotherapy and infusion room, an in-house laboratory, telemedicine and a flow cytometry laboratory.

Flow cytometry technology

The Vannie Cook Clinic will be the first in the Rio Grande Valley with flow cytometry technology. This is significant because it means that patient specimens will not have to be shipped to outside laboratories for processing, which can delay diagnosis and treatment.

"Access to an on-site flow cytometer will provide high-quality immunophenotyping results often within two hours, allowing providers the opportunity to promptly diagnosis and initiate treatment of children with cancer," Bernini said. "Currently these results can take up to 48 hours. The ability for the doctors to have access to rapid and accurate results means life-saving treatment can start almost immediately."

Additional services, programs

In addition to pediatric hematology/oncology services and programs, the Vannie Cook Clinic also includes a Long Term Survivor Clinic and a Cancer Genetics Clinic, one of the few clinics in the region that provides DNA diagnostic studies, screening tests and counseling services to individuals and families concerned about their risk of cancer.

It also is home to the Childhood Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Program, a joint program of Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children's and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. A long-term epidemiologic research study is being conducted to evaluate the incidence of childhood cancer in this strategic border area. Research studies to examine the causes of childhood cancer in the Mexican-American population in South Texas and to explore prevention strategies are also planned.

For more information, contact the clinic at 956-661-9840.