Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Facing Childhood Cancer in Central Indiana
Local hospitals provide families with care

by Carrie Bishop

September 01, 2011

Asaf Halevi’s 3-year-old son was having knee pain. It would come and go. The family didn’t think much of it; yet, the pain never resolved itself. So one Sunday afternoon the Halevis went to St. Vincent’s emergency room to check it out.

“We were sure it was something structural,” said Halevi. Perhaps it was a sprained knee. He thought they would be home from the hospital by evening. Surely there would be a simple diagnosis and routine follow up.

As a precaution, the ER doctors did blood work to check for an infection. What they found was not an infection. It was a worst-case scenario. After multiple tests that went on into Monday, an ultrasound ultimately showed a large tumor on the young boy’s kidney. He was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer of the sympathetic nervous system that can cause joint pain among other symptoms. The family was facing an unexpected nightmare.

That was a year-and-a-half ago. After rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, multiple surgeries and immunotherapy at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent as well as a stem cell transplant at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, Halevi said with caution that his son is cancer free.

“We are eternally grateful for the care we got there - not just the medical care, but the way we were treated by the doctors and nurses. They went above and beyond,” Halevi said of his son’s medical team, led by Dr. Bassem I. Razzouk. Razzouk is the medical director for the Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent in Indianapolis as well as principal investigator for a Children’s Oncology Group clinical trial, investigating a new chemo therapeutic agent for relapsed and refractory acute myeloid leukemia.

“What they do at St. V that is really special is they take time to get to know the kid and family. It wasn’t just about evidence-based medicine. Sure there was a protocol they needed to run and they made sure he got the best possible care from a medical standpoint, but they also knew he liked Star Wars, Spongebob and Mario Brothers. They took time to get to know him and when he faced difficult times they made sure the games he liked were sitting there waiting for him,” said Halevi.

Razzouk describes Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent as a place where care is holistic and treatment is provided by the same team. The Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases, which will see patients as old as 25 if they are diagnosed with a childhood cancer, started in 1999 and this year will likely treat as many as 60 new patients. In addition, Razzouk notes that Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent has four attending physicians on staff who are available to see patients 24 hours a day.

The hospital clearly provided the Halevis with the care their son most needed to get well. Part of this required teaming up with Riley at IU Health.

Also located in Indianapolis, Riley at IU Health sees about 200 new pediatric oncology patients annually or about 90 percent of the state’s new pediatric oncology cases. Often associated with research - and rightly so - Riley at IU Health is one of 20 sites in the nation to provide phase 1 studies. The hospital has 20 physicians on staff who focus exclusively on pediatric hematology / oncology, many of whom are also involved in research protocols for new treatments for children with cancer. Together with IU Simon Cancer Center, it is the first and largest provider of cancer care for children and the only providers of stem cell transplantation for children in the state.

Both hospitals are members of the prestigious Children’s Oncology Group, a research and clinical trials registry.

Beyond specific medical care, families facing childhood cancer may also find help through other area resources including the American Cancer Society (, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (, Little Red Door Cancer Agency (, Indiana Children’s Wish Fund ( and Make-A-Wish Foundation (

While families like the Halevis would wish their experience with childhood cancer on no one, local hospitals and agencies can offer real hope.