How did two children’s healthcare organizations in Jacksonville, Florida care for kids 7,000 miles away?
Jonathan Soud was a 12-year-old patient at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and Nemours Children’s Health, Jacksonville, being treated for leukemia. During his treatments, his doctors and family spent a lot of time talking to him about his interests in travel and other cultures, especially the country of Mongolia.
Eric Sandler, MD, is a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and chair of the department of pediatrics at Nemours Children’s Health, Jacksonville. He developed a special bond with Jonathan during treatments, sharing his own fascination with distant lands. Dr. Sandler also discovered that Jonathan had an interest in serving others.
“After he passed away, his parents came to me and said they wanted to figure out a way to honor Jonathan’s memory,” said Dr. Sandler. “Since we had had all those conversations regarding Mongolia, his family decided to sponsor a medical mission trip to Mongolia to do a needs assessment. How are things in Mongolia for kids with cancer, and what can we do to help? That grew into an annual visit and lots of interaction between the organizations.”
How one mission became many
What started as one mission to learn about the needs of National Center for Maternal and Child Health — the only children’s hospital in Mongolia — has become an annual visit. The goal of every trip is to improve the care of children with cancer by providing education to their hematology and oncology specialists on treating all kinds of blood disorders, cancers, and leukemias, like Jonathan’s.
“Since our mission has been to provide education to their staff, that then impacts all of their patients. Over the course of 10 years, I’d imagine we have impacted over 1,000 children in Mongolia in their hematology-oncology unit alone. There is only one children’s hospital in the whole country, so I think it’s fair to say we’ve impacted positively all of the children in Mongolia requiring specialty care,” said Dr. Sandler.
Going global to care for kids
The Mongolia mission is the farthest-reaching embodiment of the longstanding partnership between Wolfson Children’s Hospital and Nemours Children’s Health. The two organizations are celebrating more than three decades of partnership in pediatric health care this year. This collaboration allows for leading physicians and the latest medical technology to come together, serving more than 157,000 children annually.
Each year, the Mongolia mission brings six team members from both organizations. They include a hematology-oncology specialist, a clinical nurse, and subspecialists from pediatric intensive care, endocrinology, infectious disease, and more.
“Over the past 10 years, we’ve had medical experts join us from intensive care, endocrinology, infectious diseases, neurology, gastroenterology, infectious disease, pathology and palliative care, as well as a child life specialist,” Dr. Sandler said. “Several times we’ve brought a pharmacist with us from Wolfson Children’s to share knowledge of preparing and providing different chemotherapies.”
Both institutions support the mission through charitable donations. The Baptist Health Foundation at Wolfson Children’s Hospital developed the Jonathan Soud Legacy Endowment for Global Medical Care to support the trips to Mongolia, while Nemours Children’s Health does so through their International Medicine Program.
“It brings the two organizations together to support their common mission of improving the health and quality of life of all children,” said Dr. Sandler. “We’ve taken that spirit and expanded it beyond our local borders, which is so important because whether the children live in Jacksonville or in Mongolia, they’re all experiencing the same illness and deserve the same chance of survival and leading a normal life.”
When needed, both hospitals work together to provide charitable care to children who need to travel from Mongolia back to Jacksonville for treatment. As they do with patients each day, Nemours specialists treat children in an outpatient setting while Wolfson Children’s oversees inpatient treatments and hospital stays.
Moving forward together
The decades-long partnership is taking on new horizons these days. The collaboration is now expanding to support the care of children in China.
“We’ve been going to China regularly, participating in medical and consulting with medical teams. All of this has grown out of the Mongolia partnership,” said Dr. Sandler. “We’ve also sponsored physicians to come here and spend time observing so they can see how we care for patients, and use that knowledge to improve the care they can give at home.”
In his short life, Jonathan had a huge impact on his family and his community. With the help of the longstanding collaboration between Nemours Children’s Health and Wolfson Children’s Hospital, his legacy continues to change the world for the better. While the COVID-19 pandemic prevented mission trips in 2020 and 2021, the team is hoping to return to Mongolia in 2022 when their borders reopen.