Gainesville doctor to be honored at Ocala luncheon

Dr. Amy Smith is one of four being honored by the Ocala Royal Dames for cancer work.

Published: Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 11:12 p.m.

When Jett walked, he held his head to his side. His mother, Ocala lawyer Suzanne Green, said her son was trying to overcompensate for pressure in his brain.

What was presumed to be a simple doctor's visit for a potential ear infection became six months of extended-stay treatment at Shands Children's Hospital in Gainesville.

Jett, 1 1/2 years old at the time, was given a diagnosis of desmoplastic medulloblastoma, a common form of childhood brain cancer. Now 3 years old, Jett is in remission.

"We were lucky," Green said. "If Jett had been diagnosed earlier, I don't think his prognosis would be very promising."

Brain tumors are a leading type of childhood cancer, and the most challenging to treat because the brain's protective tissues make sampling difficult.

The promise that lies in treating this cancer rests partly on the research of Dr. Amy Smith, director of neuro-oncology at Shands Children's Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida. She helped treat Jett by using high-dose stem cell rescue, which can successfully treat 60 to 80 percent of patients.

Smith will be honored by the Ocala Royal Dames for Cancer Research, Inc., at their second annual Women of Hope Luncheon on July 13 at the Ocala Hilton.

"All of our 240 members have some sort of connection to cancer that makes them passionate about doing something," said Chris Hildner, event chair.

Other honorees include:

Dr. Jamie D. Daniel, of Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, for her work in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of breast disease;

Linda Dolhay, RN, OCN Director of Oncology at Ocala Health for her work in creating educational programs for oncology nurses and cancer patients;

Shirley Fessel, stewardship officer at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, who helped the Dames establish a program of giving to the center.

The Dames have raised more than $2 million over 25 years. Smith says she is pleased to receive accolades from members of the organization, but that it is the organization itself that should be honored.

"If there weren't foundations like this, it would be hard to get ideas off the ground," Smith said. "Across the board, NIH (National Institutes of Health) funding is tougher for everyone."

Smith said the economy has forced scientific agencies to reduce budgets and even in a better economy, receiving funding is still difficult, as only 3 percent of NIH cancer research is set aside for pediatric brain cancer.

The Dames awarded $50,000 to Smith to continue the clinical trials of high dose chemotherapy on her patients.

Before the treatment is administered, some of the patient's bone marrow is collected. Often times, blood platelet levels are too low and the doctor cannot administer high doses of chemotherapy when a tumor returns. By collecting the marrow prior to treatment, a patient's platelets can be grown outside the body and reintroduced into the patient to maintain the strength to receive more chemotherapy.

Smith says the money also is being used for the gene-testing of tumors, to investigate gene and protein expression of a tumor.

"This is where medicine is heading, by looking at each person's tumor for a personalized medicine approach," she said.

The Dames have an endowment specifically for children's pediatric cancer research. If they are able to raise $100,000, the state will match it with a 50 percent grant. The organization needs $3,500 to make this possible.

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