The new year holds excitement for Tara Simkins.
In January 2023, the Press On Fund, which she co-founded, will fulfill a promise by giving the last donation in a four-year $1 million pledge for local cancer care.
“We’ll give the final check of $250,000,” she said.
As of Dec. 27, people had donated more than $243,000, and the Press On Fund sent out end-of the year donation pleas. To make a donation, follow this link.
Press On Fund earmarked $500,000 for establishing a bone marrow transplant program at Children’s Hospital of Georgia. The first installment came in 2022 with the final donation to be scheduled in January.
“The Press On support has been very beneficial. This is the right investment for the right reasons,” said Dr. Amir Mian, medical director of the new Pediatric Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Program at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia, in an August news release from the Press On Fund. “There is an acute need in this area for this pediatric BMT program. CHOG does not mean just Augusta; it means all of Georgia minus Atlanta. As the second largest Children’s Hospital in Georgia, we see many patients from this part of the region and across the southern part of Georgia. We cover all these areas.”
The program is overdue, according to Tara Simkins. whose 20-year-old son, Brennan, went through four bone marrow transplants after being diagnosed with leukemia in January 2009. He celebrated 10 years in remission last year.
“It’s a 100-day commitment,” said Simkins of the transplant process.
Families must stay in the same city where the transplant takes place for more than three months. The Simkins’ family called Memphis, Tenn. and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital their second home while Brennan received his treatments over the course of two years.
“This can be physically, emotionally and financially straining for families,” said Mian, who joined the hospital staff in June 2021. “Our goal at the Children’s Hospital is to provide this service close to home so families don’t have to relocate to get this specialized care for their children.”
The goal of a bone marrow or stem cell transplant is to replace a child’s diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow utilizing stem cells. The stem cells are collected directly or by extracting them from a collection of a child’s bone marrow. The donor could be the patient (an autologous transplant) or a matched related or unrelated healthy person (allogeneic transplant), the release said.
So far, local doctors have collected stem cells from two patients for autologous transplants.
Mian said the plan is to start the autologous program first as it works toward accreditation. Initial accreditation requires five patients to receive transplants within a 12-month period followed by another 8-12 months demonstrating good clinical outcomes. The entire accreditation process takes at least 24 months.
Other ways the Press On Fund’s donations helped children locally was to facilitate the identification of a new immunotherapy marker in brain tumor patients through Dr. David Munn and Dr. Ted Johnson’s lab at the children’s hospital.
Some of Press On’s contacts used Johnson and Munn’s data to reach out to a drug company to gain authorization for a clinical trial in fall 2022 for those patients.
“The drug company has agreed to supply additional dosages for the complete trial representing the estimated equivalent of a $7 million in-kind donation and a new treatment option for children who didn’t have an option before now,” the release said.
Another recent success story through the organization’s funding is the use of a drug developed for patients with ovarian cancer being used to treat children with rare type of leukemia. The rare type of cancer had a 100% morbidity rate, Simkins said.
Researchers found a specific cancer receptor that had previously not responded to treatment. So far, the drug has been used to treat 15 children.
“All 15 have responded,” she said.
That makes 15 families whose babies saw a Christmas and hopefully many more Christmases to come,” she said.
Not only is Simkins excited for the final donation to the children’s hospital, but she sees other possibilities on the horizon. The Press On Fund has been forging a relationship with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and she’s hopeful of what that partnership might bring.
Featured image is from the January 2022 check presentation. Photo courtesy Augusta University
Charmain Z. Brackett is the publisher of Augusta Good News. Reach her at email@example.com. Subscribe to the Augusta Good News newsletter here.