Battling cancer and saving kids at the Waters Center

Pediatric oncologist William Waters MD (left, with bowtie) with colleagues. ND. Ten years ago, Upstate’s Center for Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders was named in his honor.

William Waters MD (upper left, with bow tie) and colleagues, circa 1964. Ten years ago, Upstate’s Center for Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders was named in his memory.

Richard Sills MD was a high school student in 1964, the year that Upstate’s hospitals opened. At that time, he laments, “almost nobody survived childhood cancer.”

The medical specialty of pediatric hematology-oncology was new in those days and William Waters MD, a 1942 graduate of the College of Medicine, was one of the first practitioners in the Syracuse area. Sadly, he died in 1966, at age 47.

Frank Oski MD, chairman of pediatrics, 1972 to 1985

Frank Oski MD, chairman of pediatrics, 1972 to 1985

Ten years later, Sills began a fellowship in pediatric hematology-oncology at Upstate, working under the direction of then-chairman Frank Oski MD, another pioneer in the field. Sills describes Oski as “an incredible teacher and role model for everyone who trained under him.”

In 2007, Sills returned to Upstate to direct the William Waters Center for Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders. The center serves a 21-county region and, last year, treated 454 children with cancer and blood disorders and had 617 patients enrolled in the survivor wellness program.

Thankfully, 70 percent of children with cancer today will survive their disease.

What has changed in the last 50 years to improve the survival rates so dramatically?

According to Sills, it’s the result of multiple improvements in medical care — the use of more effective, more intensive chemotherapy regiments as well as tremendous improvements in general medical care. Sometimes Sills and his staff use doses of chemotherapy five times greater than would have been used in the 1960s.

Richard Sills MD, chief of pediatric hematology-oncology

Richard Sills MD, chief of pediatric hematology-oncology

“A cancer diagnosis is completely different than what people think,” explains Sills. “Today, it’s an astounding success story.”

“Over the last 25 years, we’ve taken away much of the pain of procedures and reduced the nausea from chemo-therapy,” he continues. “Kids are not afraid to come to the hospital.”

The Waters Center is housed in both the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital and in the new Upstate Cancer Center. How do these facilities affect care?

“It’s much more patient- and family-friendly today. The environment is warm and happy for children, comfortable for families.”

The children’s hospital has individual patient rooms with sleeper chairs for family members, a family resource center, a classroom and play rooms. The new cancer center is nature-themed and has a playroom and specially designed areas for infants, children and teenagers.

“When I was first practicing, kids screamed when they had to go to the hospital,” says Sills. “Now, they cry when they have to leave because they’re  having fun and don’t want to go home.”

Zach Ellingson on the cover of the new Cancer Care magazine.

Zach Ellingson on the cover of the new Cancer Care magazine.

To “meet” one of the patients of Upstate’s Waters Center, read Cancer Care magazine’s story on  Zach, who was diagnosed with cancer four years ago, at age 8.

 

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About susankeeter

Occasional contributor Upstate’s Susan Keeter has written about and painted Upstate’s Dr. Sarah Loguen, one of the first African American women physicians. Keeter created the horse sculpture in front of the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital and illustrated a children’s book on autism, “Waiting for Benjamin.” She’s written for Physician Practice, Upstate Alumni Journal, Cancer Care and Upstate Health magazines. Reach her by email at keeters@upstate.edu or by phone at 315-464-4834.
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