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Children's of Mississippi child life specialist Tiffany Key in hospital looking through a pile of games and toys

Starlight Brightens Days for Children’s of Mississippi Patients

Written by: Children’s of Mississippi

Cancer and blood disorder patients at Children's of Mississippi may spend days, weeks, or even months in the hospital. Making those days a little brighter is the Starlight Children's Foundation.

Starlight's gifts of toys, games, and other resources promote development during the healing process, said Children's of Mississippi child life specialist Tiffany Key (pictured above).

"Children's of Mississippi's partnership with Starlight Children's Foundation serves as such a benefit and source of support for our patients and families," she said. "Starlight has provided a multitude of toys, activities, and resources for our patients through their delivery programs.

"At Children's of Mississippi, we want kids to be able to do in the hospital what they do at home — and that is to play. Through Starlight's generous donations and support, we are able to continue this mission, even in the middle of a pandemic that has affected all areas of hospital programming."

Children's of Mississippi is the pediatric arm of the University of Mississippi Medical Center that includes the state's only children's hospital.

The Children's of Mississippi Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders provides treatment for cancers and blood disorders ranging from common to complex and rare. Conditions treated include sickle cell disease, hemophilia, clotting disorders, anemia, disorders of white blood cells, disorders of platelets, leukemia, bone cancer, brain and central nervous system cancers, germ cell tumors, liver cancer, lymphoma, Langerhans cell histiocytosis, neuroblastoma, retinoblastoma, soft tissue cancers, and kidney cancer.

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Children's of Mississippi Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders includes one of the largest pediatric clinics for sickle cell disease in the country as well as care for other disorders including iron deficiency anemia, and disorders involving platelets, clotting, or bleeding disorders, said Dr. Anderson Collier, UMMC professor of pediatric hematology and oncology and chief of the Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology.

"Our sickle cell clinic treats children from around the state, so our program is one of the largest in the country in terms of the number of patients we see," said Dr. Melissa McNaull, professor of pediatric hematology/oncology. "Mississippi has the highest percentage of sickle cell disease per capita in the country."

Dr. Melissa McNaull

An inherited condition in which there aren't enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen throughout the body, sickle cell disease affects about 100,000 Americans and about one out of every 365 African-American births. In Mississippi, about 80 babies a year are born with the disorder.

The condition is named for sickle- or crescent-shaped red blood cells, which can get stuck in small blood vessels. This can slow or block blood flow and oxygen to parts of the body, causing pain crises and organ damage.

About 140 children 18 and younger are diagnosed with cancer in Mississippi each year, or about one diagnosis every two and a half days.

Collier said the center is working with the latest in targeted cancer treatments.

"We are learning about the cellular mechanisms that allow certain types of cancer to grow and develop and are designing medications to target those mechanisms," he said. "These targeted therapies are much more specific to cancer and potentially have fewer side effects. We are also currently using and studying additional immunotherapies. These therapies use a person's own immune system to attack cancer cells. Both of these areas of research are incredibly exciting and promising for the treatment of childhood cancer."

Dr. Anderson Collier

As part of the state's only children's hospital, the Children's of Mississippi Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders offers unique support services designed to help children and their families cope with illness and treatment.

Child Life specialists help children cope with cancer and blood disorders through therapeutic play. Educators within the children's hospital help patients stay current with their school districts while getting well in the hospital or at home. Counseling, pastoral services, and social workers' skills are available to assist patients and their families.

Starlight Children's Foundation helps to provide the toys, tools, and resources to help patients and their families during hospital stays and clinic visits, Key said. "Starlight's service is exemplary, and they have a true desire to positively impact the lives of children coping with healthcare-related stressors."

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