Our Patients, Research and Innovation
For a family fighting cancer on two fronts, Journey Clinic is a home away from home
- September 02, 2021
- By Staff Writer
When 6-year-old Owen Meyer began throwing tantrums at preschool, his parents assumed they were just a normal part of growing up. But when other unusual symptoms began to appear, his parents knew something wasn’t right.
“When he would play with Legos on the floor, he wasn’t using his right hand, he’d be using his feet,” said Tim Meyer, Owen’s father. “Then, putting on mittens, he couldn’t straighten his fingers.”
Appointments with the family’s primary care doctor led to finding a golf-ball sized tumor in Owen’s brain. The family was immediately referred to the M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital for expert care.
One year into Owen’s treatment, the Meyer family faced another devastating diagnosis. Their daughter Declyn, then five years old, began experiencing unexplained fevers and pains in her legs. After several trips to their local clinic, a blood test eventually confirmed Declyn had leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells that begins in the bone marrow.
Once again, the family turned to Masonic Children’s Hospital for innovative and compassionate care. Together, Owen and Declyn often spent hours – and sometimes full days – receiving chemotherapy in M Health Fairview Pediatric Specialty Clinic – Journey.
Designed for treatment of a wide array of pediatric conditions, Journey Clinic is a frequent destination for children who need infusion treatments like chemotherapy for cancer or other conditions. The clinic is often a “home away from home” for families – an idea that former Gopher football player and cancer survivor Casey O’Brien understands all too well. O’Brien, who was also treated at the Journey Clinic, has organized a $1 million “Team One Four” fundraising campaign to make the clinic’s infusion center even more patient friendly by:
Incorporating design elements to bring in more natural light
Making video games, movies, books, and streaming video services available in every room
Expanding therapeutic programs in the clinic and the hospital
More than just a clinic visit
The Meyers regularly drive three hours from their home in Appleton, Minn., for treatment, and Journey Clinic is a significant place for the family. That’s why O’Brien’s fundraising campaign is welcome news for the Meyers, who believe healing means more than just receiving the right medication. Providing a welcoming, comfortable space where children and families can find ways to smile is just as vital to the treatment journey as the blood work and therapies, according to Tim.
“For me, it’s nothing to sit there for an hour, but for a kid that’s like 10 hours,” Tim said, laughing. “Something to get them up and moving to get their minds off [treatment] definitely helps.”
Pediatric Neuro-Oncologist Chris Moertel, MD, co-medical director of the Journey Clinic and the medical director of M Health Fairview’s brain tumor program, has been part of Owen’s care team for five years.
Due to its location in the brain, Owen’s tumor is inoperable, but his care team has halted the tumor’s growth by use of an oral chemo medication which Owen now takes daily.
“When he was first diagnosed, his vision was threatened. Our whole goal for treatment was to keep that tumor away from his optic nerve,” Moertel said. During the process, Owen spent many days at Journey Clinic on the hospital’s ninth floor.
Declyn’s condition required over two years of chemotherapy. She, too, spent hours receiving IV medications in the Journey Clinic infusion center.
Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist Karim Thomas Sadak MD, MPH, MSE, has treated Declyn since she was first diagnosed, and has seen how stressful it can be for a family coming to our hospital for treatment while a child is sick. “There were times when Declyn was coming in two to three times a week, whether it was for appointments, blood tests, or treatments,” Sadak said.
During their visits to the hospital, Declyn and her brother fell in love with tricycles specially fitted for children to ride while receiving IV treatments.
“She would ride up and down that darn hallway like she was on a racetrack,” Sadak said. “That helped her pass the time. The smile that would be on her face, the joy, it would honestly bring other people joy as she rode by them.”
Accessories like the tricycle help create warmth in a clinical environment, said Moertel. “If you’re a little kid, it can be overwhelming,” he added. “On the plus side, our nursing staff there is truly outstanding, and they work really hard to make the experience as good as they can.”
Casey O’Brien’s vision for the infusion center aims to not only enhance the patient experience during their stay, but also the staff’s ability to provide the most comforting care possible. Both Moertel and Sadak believe extra amenities will make the clinic an even more positive place.
The next milestone
Declyn and Owen visit the clinic less often now.
With blood tests being done every few months to track progress, Declyn is on her way to clearing the next big hurdle in her treatment. “She’s two years post-treatment. Once we hit that five-year mark, there’s a real low chance of it coming back,” Tim said.
Owen, now 12, is playing hockey and enjoying sports like a regular kid.
“Him playing hockey is such an important thing,” Moertel said, “the tumor pushed on his optic nerves and we were able to keep it away. He can be out there to play hockey and we’re very grateful.”
For so many kids like Declyn and Owen, getting them through the next milestone takes a combination of compassionate patient care and leading-edge treatment. Striving for patients to have an experience that is as good as their care is what makes Casey O’Brien’s “Team One Four” vision so powerful.
“The infusion center is more than just a place where you treat and beat cancer,” Sadak said. “It’s a place where you take care of a child, a family and do so in an environment that is kid-friendly.”