“Hope” is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops – at all
– Emily Dickinson
We hadn’t been with our M2Gen tour guide for five minutes when I knew that I was in over my head. What was I thinking, having volunteered to write the Health Sciences Day blog post? As our guide described the process of mapping genomes as casually as one might describe last night’s dinner plans, I frantically scribbled notes, spelling most of the medical terms phonetically in hopes that I might be able to look them up (and understand them better) later.
What is “fluorescence in situ hybridization” again?
And as we moved through the morning – me with an high school-level understanding of basic biology and a few seasons of “House” on Netflix; our presenters with their PhDs and plans to cure cancer with science some of which hadn’t even been invented yet when I was in school – I worried about how I was going to make any sense of the experience on paper.
But then we broke into groups at Moffitt Cancer Center, and chance saw fit to sort me into the “Arts in Medicine” group. Picking up a watercolor brush sparked for me the figurative brush strokes with which Health Sciences Day needed to be painted: what was important wasn’t so much the science as it was this group of people who have dedicated themselves to being the patient’s best hope.
“We’re in the information business,” said Dr. William Dalton, the founder of Moffitt Cancer Center’s M2Gen and one of the nation’s leaders in personalized medicine, explaining that information leads to knowledge, which leads to a better life. It’s the philosophy behind Moffitt’s “Total Cancer Care” pledge and the strategy behind M2Gen’s bio-repository of 100,000+ patients, whose information and tissue samples have helped define cancer not as one disease, but thousands, each of which has a unique blueprint that can be mapped and addressed accordingly: “the right treatment for the right patient at the right time.”
“That’s why we’re here – to take care of people,” our guide said as he wrapped up the morning’s tour. “That’s the bottom line.”
For Cheryl Belanger, taking care of people expands beyond their body to their mind, their heart and their soul. As Moffitt’s Arts In Medicine Coordinator, she sees the creative arts as playing a vital role in promoting healing for cancer patients and well-being for their family members, caregivers and hospital staff. Her team of six artists-in-residence include painters, poets, textile artists and musicians who offer opportunities to create, experience and appreciate art in the hospital’s open studio, as well as patients’ bedsides and in Moffitt’s common areas.
“[Art] treats the part of the person that isn’t being treated out there,” Belanger said, encouraging us to pick up our paint brushes and create an image from the random pattern of lines in front of us. The comfort that comes from creative freedom and its measurable effect on health indicators, she said, is what has kept the Arts program going strong for 12 years in a day and age where such a “feel-good” program might ordinarily have been cut from the budget.
Considering what we’d seen that morning, then, Dr. Johnathan Lancaster’s question over lunch seemed easy to answer: “Why are we as good as we are?” He is the president of the Moffitt Medical Group, the largest multi-disciplinary oncology practice in the State of Florida, and he repeated some of the same accolades as the hospital’s Executive Vice President Jack Kolosky had shared with us when we arrived: that Moffitt is designated as a National Cancer Institute, and one of only 41 Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the country. But what truly makes Moffitt as good as they are, Lancaster said, is the team-based approach, which allows his doctors to be experts in particular types of cancer and encourages them to explore and discuss a variety of integrative, patient-specific treatment options.
But Moffitt’s innovative ideas about Total Cancer Care are only one part of what Tampa General Hospital President & CEO Jim Burkhart called a “Clinically Integrated Delivery Network” that cares for patients literally from cradle to grave: a cooperation of caregivers that seeks to treat patients at the appropriate level – be it a walk-in clinic, the emergency room or an in-patient hospital bed – as efficiently as possible. By using the system’s limited resources effectively, Burkhart explained, we can address many of the looming questions about America’s health care system’s costs and accessibility.
The system’s strengths were further highlighted by Dr. Harry van Loveren, USF’s Chair of Neurosurgery and interim dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, whose dry wit and lively videos punctuated a presentation on TGH’s status as a Level 1 trauma center and the region’s only safety net hospital and quaternary care facility. Its weaknesses were brought to bear by former state and US Representative Jim Davis, who shared his take on the Affordable Care Act and the Chamber’s position on expanding Medicaid, and State Legislative Affairs Coordinator Clint Shouppe, whose role-playing exercise made all of us think about the issue from a different angle, and made Rick Houston our Governor, if only for a few minutes.
But the system’s true value was brought home by a woman named – appropriately – Hope. Hope received not one but two heart transplants at TGH in her 20s, and went on to become the hospital’s first woman to give birth after such a surgery. “I don’t know who it was harder on – her or me!” joked her surgeon, Dr. Debbie Rinde-Hoffman, who is the medical director of TGH’s Cardiac Transplant Program. And as Hope shared her story in a voice quavering with emotion and showed us the photos of her miracle birthday girl, the real lesson of Health Sciences Day – and the hope behind the science – was clear.