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St. John's pediatric oncologist fills service gap

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In an area where the closest pediatric oncologist was three hours away, it was necessary for St. John's to bring someone in to provide local care for children with cancer symptoms. Dr. Remi Fasipe stepped up to fill that role.

Fasipe sat down Sept. 14 at the Tower Club atop Hammons Tower with Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson as a part of the journal's 12 People You Need to Know series.

Fasipe, the first pediatric hematologist-oncologist in the region, traveled, lived and practiced across the globe before settling in Springfield in August 2009. She was born in England, moved to Nigeria at age 5 where she later attended medical school, completed studies in the United Kingdom and the United States and previously practiced in New Jersey.

She said she decided to take the job in Springfield because of the area's necessity for pediatric oncology services.

"If you compare the size of Springfield to a city of the same size in the Northeast, there are probably about three or four oncology programs serving children," she said. "Right here, hospitals are about three or four hours away.

"There's really a big need, and that's what drew me here."

Another draw, Fasipe said, was the affiliation between St. John's Children's Hospital and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The affiliation allows parents more ease of mind because of St. Jude's help in covering costs associated with treatment, as well as other benefits, she said.

"We are the sixth affiliate of St. Jude," she said, noting the other affiliate locations in Baton Rouge, La.; Huntsville, Ala.; Johnson City, Tenn.; Peoria, Ill.; and Shreveport, La. "By setting up an affiliate program, the patients get treated, they stay close to home and the patients don't have to travel very often."

Some research work still has to be transferred to St. Jude's parent location in Memphis, Tenn., but St. Jude covers expenses for families to travel, Fasipe said.

St. John's became a St. Jude affiliate in June 2009 and hired Fasipe shortly thereafter, due largely in part to a $1 million donation from the Pitt family for the pediatric cancer center, according to Springfield Business Journal coverage.

Fasipe, now one year in to the program, has worked with about 40 patients.

Of children's cancer cases, leukemia is the most common. Statistics show that 1 in every 300 girls is diagnosed with some form of cancer while 1 in every 333 boys is diagnosed, totaling more than 12,000 diagnoses annually, Fasipe said, citing Sierra Valley Cancer Registry Services figures.

Though Fasipe said survival and treatment rate is generally much higher in children than in adults due to increased funding for children's programs and lack of other pre-existing physical conditions, she said she can find it difficult not being personally affected by her work, especially considering she has children of her own.

"We're not supposed to, but it does happen," Fasipe said. "What's hard for me is when I see kids in the same age group as my children."

However, she said the joy she receives from helping patients and bringing hope to parents makes doing her job worthwhile.

For parents that might be concerned about childhood cancer, Fasipe gave a word of advice: persistence.

"If symptoms are not going away, always ask for further investigation," she said. "If something is persistent - keep questioning, keep demanding."

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