Dr. Li Chi-kong
Chief, The Lady Pao Children’s Cancer Centre
Chief of Service, Department of Paediatrics,
Prince of Wales Hospital
Honorary Clinical Professor,Department of Paediatrics,
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Medical team: The dedicated front-line staff
The Lady Pao Children’s Cancer Centre (CCC) was established in 1995; it is the first cancer centre to specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of childhood cancer.
Each year, the CCC takes in approximately 70 new patients and carries out hematopoietic stem cells transplant for over 20 patients.
Whenever I hear patients and parents talk about the CCC, I feel warmed inside. The CCC seeks to constantly improve in a spectrum of techniques including, for example: DNA diagnosis; targeted cancer therapy; and the latest stem cell transplantation procedures. The dedicated medical team aims to provide the best treatments for the patients.
Not only is advanced technology needed in the treatment of childhood cancer, but also a team of highly devoted and caring medical staff is essential. We are faced with seriously ill patients and their worried parents who are dependent on our help. We are very proud of the dedicated staff in the CCC and our biggest reward is the recognition we receive from the patients and their families.
I have been a specialist in childhood blood diseases and tumours for over twenty years, thirteen of which have been spent working with the CCC. I have been pleased to witness the progress that the CCC has made in the development of the high standard services which are now tailored to suit the needs of the patients and their parents. In the CCC, the 10 spacious isolated wards allow the parents to stay with their children 24 hours a day, and children can move around when their condition allows. Exercises is good for the child patients and the isolation rooms are equipped with exercise equipment like exercise bikes, etc. There are also drawing tables and toys to suit the different needs of the children. The parents can stay overnight with their children on extendable beds.
Parents: Our partners in the battle
During the 1990s, it was common practice for parents staying overnight with their children to only have the use of hard chairs set next to the hospital beds in public hospitals. However, sleep is important not only to the patients but also to the strained parents who stay with their children for such long hours. In recognition of this, the CCC provided sofa chairs for the parents in the early years. Unfortunately, we were not aware that many parents suffered from sore backs after sleeping for a month or two. If you have ever flown on an overnight flight rooted in the plane’s sofa-chair seat, it is not difficult to imagine the soreness experienced by parents in the CCC. After listening to their feedback, we started to look for suitable extendable beds. However, it was not an easy task as hospital beds are different from those in our homes: They have to be fire-resistant, anti-bacteria and easy to clean. The sofa beds used in the hospitals in the United States cost over HKD 10,000 each. This prompted a parent who had spent many a weary night in the CCC to kindly donate over 10 ‘deluxe sofa beds’ to us, so that other parents can sleep better at night. Now some children even prefer the sofa beds to our hospital beds!
Parents can always tell what we are short of in the CCC. An example is the lounge we provide for parents. Our lounge has always been quite well equipped with TV, fridge and sofas so that parents could have the opportunity to relax a little outside of the wards. Some parents who had stayed in the CCC for a few months started to look for ways to improve the lounge. A generous parent hired a designer and paid for a new, warmer design of the lounge; more racks have also been added so that parents no longer need to move in and out with their large heavy bags.
Another design feature of the CCC is the rectangular shape of the wards, with a long corridor outside stretching along the sides. When I was in the United States, I saw children riding on their little tricycles speeding around the corridor, one after another. Although this is not possible in the CCC, the corridor does allow the patients the opportunity to enjoy some form of exercise with their parents. The design is especially important for those in the isolated wards as it enables them to get outside and get to know other patients and families.
Communication : A valuable emotional support
In addition to the facilities at the CCC, the emotional support we provide is very important. We have to make the patients and the parents feel that they are not alone in the CCC and that our staff is there to help, so the work attitude of our staff is important.
We have to pay special attention as patients and parents are sometimes very sensitive to what we say and how we behave. If we observe an instance of inappropriate behavior or receive critical feedback from the parents, we will communicate with our staff and seek areas of improvement. It is important for a medical practitioner to listen, so that the patients and parents are able to develop a trust in us. Patients and their families can be emotionally fragile, particularly so during the weeks following the diagnosis, at times of a relapse or during the advanced stages of cancer. They can make it through these trying times with help from the social workers and psychologists of the Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF), who will visit them in the hospital or their home. This support also helps the medical staff to carry out a smoother treatment process.
Recently, the palliative and home care services provided by the CCF allow patients to rest at home and avoid long stays in the hospital.
The establishment of the CCC sets a milestone for childhood cancer treatment in Hong Kong. I am proud to play a part in its design and operation. Nonetheless, the CCC owes its success to the dedication of the whole medical team and the support from patients and their families.
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