Is Pediatrics At MD
Anderson Coming To An End? It’s Possible

By

Leonard Zwelling

         Amid all the Sturm und
Drang
that has been the last few weeks at MD Anderson over trying to figure
out what to do about a financial shortfall that is not a crisis, a true crisis
has developed in another area.

This
is an area I know well given that my spouse of 44 years was its leader from March
1, 2001 through February 9, 2015. On the latter date she was given a choice of
being fired or resigning for reasons that as of this writing are unknown to her
or to me. It is likely, however, that this blog has something, but not
everything, to do with it. Mea culpa!

         Since that day 18 months ago, when Dr. Kleinerman gave up
the Head of Pediatrics and Dr. Schwartz became the ad interim Head, every MD-PhD faculty member has left. That is a
total of five. They had variable degrees of clinical responsibility and time committed to laboratory pursuits, as well as reasons for leaving, from the lure of
Big Pharma to the long reach of the law, but these scientists were of an ilk
unseen at Anderson in Pediatrics prior to Dr. Kleinerman’s ascension to
leadership. Interestingly enough, MD-PhDs in Pediatrics at MD Anderson are now gone
completely.

In
addition, about 4 to 5 clinical faculty have left and most have not been
replaced. Retirements are also in the offing. The replacement of these
revenue-generating faculty could be jeopardized by the hiring freeze that has
been put in place for the institution.

         I know, I know, I am completely biased on this issue.
Correct! I am conflicted to a huge degree. That doesn’t have any bearing on the
facts. Pediatrics is drying up at Anderson, certainly as a research force and
probably a clinical one as well as both the Leukemia and Transplant services
have been decimated by the departures. The laboratory program has been cut in
half and several major grant procurers are gone, leaving barely a skeleton crew
of what was there on February 9, 2015.

         The institution seems to be in no hurry to name a permanent
Head of Pediatrics as Dr. Schwartz has been in the ad interim role from the moment Coach K was removed, yet has done
nothing to fill the vacancies, nor have Drs. Buchholz or Dmitrovsky done all that
much to fix what is a distinctly Pediatric Brain Drain at Anderson. Dr.
Poplack, the Head of Hematology and Oncology at Texas Children’s Hospital, may
yet get his wish and make Pediatric Cancer
History at MD Anderson.

         One can only speculate as to why this has transpired. The
actual true causes of Dr. Kleinerman’s removal have never been made clear to
her, but undoubtedly involve the irritant this blog has become and other
managerial problems that were under the purview of Nursing and Operations but
which were blamed on the clinical leadership. This was simply untrue.

The
kind of support Dr. Kleinerman received from Dr. Mendelsohn that allowed her to
create the Children’s Cancer Hospital, build its new in-patient floors, hire a
truly stellar group of physician-investigators, and develop a separate guiding
board filled with prominent members of the Texas political and philanthropic
community has been sorely lacking under Dr. DePinho.

         None of this is sour grapes. OK, maybe some, after all I
wrote this from Napa Valley, but more of it is just sadness that a great
Division of Pediatrics has been reduced to also-ran status in a matter of 18
months.

         My guess is that Texas Children’s will administer the coup de grace soon enough and all that
work that Dr. Kleinerman did (and which I had the pleasure to have lived
through and observed in awe) will have been for naught. But I understand that one.
Look at the infrastructure for research now. That used to be my problem. Now it
belongs to many, none of whom can possibly integrate the various functions with
a sense of urgency or a commitment to service as was the case when the people I
hired worked for the faculty.

         I am sorry, I know I am too close to this one, but give me a
break. Pediatrics needs a lot of attention from someone who actually cares
before it goes the way of Developmental Therapeutics.

         Remember, the children are our future and the destruction of
an elegant program may portend bad things for the rest of the institution.

Leonard Zwelling