Introducing the Institute for Pediatric Oncology and Hematology
Prof. dr. Ernest Bilić,
Head of the Institute
Please tell us a little bit about where you work.
The Institute for Pediatric Oncology and Hematology is the Reference Centre of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Croatia. The Institute treats all types of blood diseases and malignant diseases in children. The Institute doctors mostly treat leukaemia and lymphoma, since almost half of ill children under the age of 18 suffer from those two malignant diseases.
Why is the Institute for Pediatric Oncology and Hematology important?
The Institute is the only place in the Republic of Croatia which performs allogeneic bone marrow transplantation, i.e. transplantation in which the donor and the recipient of the bone marrow are different people. In addition to hematologists-oncologists, the transplantation team also includes experts from other areas without whom this procedure would not be possible (an internist hematologist, immunologist, transfusiologist, geneticist, biochemist, microbiologist, employees of the Croatian Bone Marrow Donors Registry, etc.).
What kind of treatment is provided?
The Institute provides all types of the state-of-the-art treatment to children suffering from malignant diseases, such as megachemotherapy, monoclonal antibody therapy, smart or targeted drug delivery, or anything the modern medicine has to offer to children suffering from malignant diseases. The Institute has the European certificate for the treatment of all forms of blood clotting disorders in children. All children suffering from malignant diseases are treated in accordance with international treatment protocols, mostly by the BFM Group (the largest international therapy association for treatment of malignant diseases in children with the registered office in Germany). We currently participate in four international academic studies by the BFM Group for the treatment of leukaemia and lymphoma. The Institute experts cooperate with international experts, regularly present their own results at international congresses, and also publish their findings and treatment results in local and international publications. Besides the above-mentioned, scientific research is also carried out at the Institute. Moreover, pediatric classes of the School of Medicine of the University of Zagreb are also held here, as well as nursing and postgraduate classes. Thanks to its international reputation and very good treatment results, the Institute treats not only children from Croatia, but also children from the neighbouring countries and many other countries.
Please tell us about the Institute’s history.
Prof. Dr. Aleksandar Tiefenbach founded the Institute for Pediatric Oncology and Hematology in 1957, in Šalata. The Pediatric Clinic, a part of which was the Oncology Department, was founded in 1923 in a building located at the address Šalata 4. The same building also included the Clinic of Dermatology and Venereology and the Clinic of Otorhinolaryngology. In 2009, the Institute was relocated from Šalata to its current location, the University Hospital Centre Zagreb. This is a unique department for treatment of children with malignant diseases not only in Croatia, but also internationally. Until the mid-20th century, children’s malignant diseases could not be treated at all. Oncology patients only received palliative care then. During the 60s and 70s, simple forms of chemotherapy started to be applied to children, and surgical treatment of solid tumours was being perfected. The development of radiotherapy marked the beginning of radiation of children with malignant diseases.
What kind of experiences do parents and children have?
The Institute for Pediatric Oncology and Hematology is currently located on the ground floor of the main building of the University Hospital Centre Zagreb (Rebro). Its premises are inadequate since they are located in a very busy area - right next to the road and the entrance to the largest hospital in the Republic of Croatia. Peace and quiet are impossible to ensure to the most vulnerable children. Little patients are exposed to the looks of passers-by. The Department does not offer accommodation for parents in order for them to be by their child. There are as many as three children per room. The rooms do not have their own bathrooms, and parents cannot even use them. Since children sometimes spend months at the hospital, better conditions are absolutely required. When a child suffers from a malignant disease, the whole family is actually ill, not only the child. Usually the parents in question are young, at the beginning of their adult life (unemployment, unresolved housing situation, etc.) and that additional misfortune, i.e. their potentially terminally ill child, presents an extremely traumatic period in their lives. We witness numerous parents falling ill, their anxiety and fears, divorces and similar unwanted events in these young families. The new department would provide spiritual, psychological and psychiatric support to all parents, and if possible, material support as well.