Team Jack Hosts Reception at Omaha's Buffett Cancer Center

Dr. John Sparks, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at UNMC and Pediatrician in Chief at Children's Hospital and Medical Center-Omaha.
Dr. Donald Durden, Chair of Pediatric Oncology at Children's Hospital and Medical Center-Omaha and Director of Research Division of Computational Chemistry and Experimental Therapeutics.
Andy & Brianna Hoffman, parents of Jack Hoffman and co-founders of the Team Jack Foundation.

Team Jack Hosts Reception at Omaha's Buffett Cancer Center

Monday, October 29, 2018

Omaha, NE – On October 18, the Team Jack Foundation had the pleasure of hosting a reception at The Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha, Nebraska, to welcome Dr. Jonathan Schwartz, pediatric neuro-oncologist, as well as celebrate the progress being achieved within the Pediatric Brain Cancer Program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Remarks were heard by Dr. Jonathan Schwartz, D.O., Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, Dr. John Sparks, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at UNMC and Pediatrician in Chief at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, and Dr. Donald Durden, Chair of Pediatric Oncology at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.

To begin the program, Andy & Brianna Hoffman, parents of Jack Hoffman and co-founders of the Team Jack Foundation, welcomed the crowd and thanked all those that have had a hand in the development of the program, many of whom were in attendance. Andy noted that in 2009, there were only 35 pediatric neuro-oncologists in the country, so the fact that Nebraska now has one in Dr. Jonathan Schwartz, is quite an accomplishment. The hiring of this pediatric brain cancer specialist would not have been possible without great effort on the part of many.

“Thank you all for having the shared vision of giving kids in Nebraska and the surrounding region center of excellence-type care. These kids deserve this, and we are so incredibly excited that this can be offered right here in Nebraska,” said Andy Hoffman.

Following the welcome from the Hoffmans, Dr. Jonathan Schwartz (pictured above) shared his gratitude in being recruited and hired at UNMC and Children’s Hospital and Medical Center and added that he felt very welcome here in Nebraska. Dr. Schwartz credited Dr. Minnie Abromowitch for developing a comprehensive neuro-oncology program, which includes neuro-surgery, neurology, social work and palliative care. This happened between the two-three year period, when Dr. Schwartz’ recruitment began and when he was actually hired.

“It’s a nice opportunity for families to see all their care providers at one time. The families know exactly what is going on and we are all on the same page, and to me, that’s world class”, Dr. Schwartz said of the program.

Dr. John Sparks took to the podium to update the crowd on the progress of the Pediatric Brain Cancer Program. Dr. Sparks spoke of how the Team Jack Foundation and UNMC have brought together other charitable organizations, the State of Nebraska and Children’s Hospital and Medical Center to make strides in the area of pediatric brain cancer.

 “The addition of a (pediatric) neuro-oncologist is critical to developing top-tier neuro-oncology services for our children,” said Dr. Sparks.

According to Dr. Sparks, Dr. Schwartz is one of about twelve pediatric neuro-oncologists that graduated last year in the United States. With the development of the Pediatric Brain Cancer Program, the care in Omaha of children with all kinds of cancer has improved as well. Sparks made mention of the newly assembled pediatric neuro-oncology team made up of Dr. Adam Conley, Dr. Jonathan Schwartz, Dr. Minnie Abromowitch, Dr. Meaghann Weaver and Dr. Donald Durden.

“It’s a new team, one hard to assemble, and we’re just delighted it has come together here, this year, now,” noted Dr. Sparks.

In addition to the clinical team, Dr. Sparks stressed the importance of research to help improve treatments for kids with brain cancer. Newly hired senior pediatric neuro-oncologist, Dr. Don Durden, was introduced as the chair of pediatric oncology at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha. Dr. Durden also will serve as the Director of the Research Division of Computational Chemistry and Experimental Therapeutics.  Dr. Durden is a renowned physician-scientist that recently came to Nebraska from the University of California-San Diego, where he served as Professor of Pediatrics and Vice-Chair for Research.  Located within the UCSD Cancer Center, Dr. Durden had the Durden Laboratory which is part of a multidisciplinary neuro-oncology team aimed at designing new approaches for brain tumor therapy. 

Dr. Sparks said of Durden, “He brings unique research skills and tools to our state. His research holds tremendous promise for new, more effective and safer treatment for our kids.”

Following the remarks from Dr. Sparks, Dr. Don Durden was welcomed to the podium to say a few words. At the time of the reception, Dr. Durden had been a permanent resident of Omaha for just one day, but his enthusiasm for the program was evident. He made note that elevating the standard of care for children with brain cancer in Omaha and the entire Midwest is very important and that childhood brain tumors are much more complex than that of an adult. With over 100 diagnoses of pediatric brain cancer, Dr. Durden believes eventually there needs to be a specialized treatment protocol for each different diagnosis.  This would increase the effectiveness of the treatment as well as decrease the toxicity of the treatments. Dr. Durden also made mention of immunotherapy and it’s revolution of the cancer world-wide.  

Dr. Durden highlighted that if a child’s tumor does not respond to first-line treatment or experiences a relapse, his goal is to have a customized plan already in place to provide second, third and even fourth-line therapies. This is done by extensive study of each patient’s specific tumor, beginning at the time of diagnosis.

Dr. Durden said, “Team Jack is providing not only a better standard of care with the comprehensive clinic but is also providing us with the resources we need to develop tailored, personalized, targeted therapies for a recurrent refractory high-risk brain tumor”. Dr. Durden ended by thanking Dean Britigan, Chancellor Gold, and Dr. Richard & Geralyn Azizkhan for the opportunity to join the team, “this is the perfect storm in Omaha to be able to do this with this team.”

Also present at the reception was Bill & Jodi Simants and their two sons, Grady & Kolby.  Their eldest son, Grady, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and is currently treating at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.  Grady’s mom, Jodi, noted the excitement of the progression of the program right here in Nebraska.

“We are so excited for the arrival of Dr. Jonathan Schwarz to UNMC/Children’s and our personal medical team. With the uncertainty of our son Grady’s diagnosis we know his added expertise will allow our family to hopefully remain in Nebraska and receive the best possible care for Grady,” said Jodi. 

The Team Jack Foundation is grateful for the support and progress that is currently happening at UNMC and Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.  With their help, children diagnosed with brain cancer in Nebraska and the Midwest will now have access to the best care possible when diagnosed.

“I’d like to personally thank Team Jack for their passion, vision and persistence in helping us develop pediatric neuro-oncology services in our region. While we’ve made tremendous progress and we are celebrating that today, I believe the best is yet to come as our clinical services, educational programs and research come together to improve the care of children in our region,” from Dr. John Sparks.

In January 2018, the Team Jack Foundation announced their Power5 Pediatric Brain Tumor Initiative in which they will continue to fund research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center & Children’s Hospital & Medical Center. This pediatric brain cancer initiative focuses on four areas: laboratory research, clinical research, pain management in cancer treatment and education. In late September, at the Nebraska Football Pediatric Brain Cancer Awareness Game, Dr. Schwartz, Dr. Conley, Dr. Abromowitch and Dr. Rickard accepted a check for $30,203.14 to the Power5 program from the 2018 Nebraska Football Road Race. In addition to these funds, the Team Jack Foundation has received a $500,000 private donation as well as a $10,000 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska, both going toward the Power5. Check back for updates about the progress of the Power5 Pediatric Brain Tumor Initiative.

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