First, you get the diagnosis: “Your child is critically ill, and needs a bone marrow transplant.”
Next, you connect with Patty Kleinke, lead nurse clinician for University of Minnesota Health’s Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant (BMT) program.
Kleinke regularly interacts with people during what may be the most traumatic moment of their lives. With patience, empathy and an understanding of the process—Kleinke formerly worked as a nurse at Masonic Children’s Hospital—she’s often able to make the referral day a lot easier for families.
What conditions require a child to undergo a blood or bone marrow transplant?
We work with families of children who have a wide variety of diagnoses. Childhood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma and a variety of cancerous tumors, or other non-cancerous disorders, like sickle cell disease, aplastic anemia, even very rare conditions cases like Fanconi anemia or Epidermolysis bullosa.
Is the procedure complicated or dangerous?
Transplant is a very high risk process. Children going through transplant receive high dose chemotherapy and sometimes radiation prior to transplant.
This often produces side effects—nausea, pain or mouth sores, for example—that our provider team and nurses identify and manage. Every child reacts differently. Before a child is admitted to begin their prep for transplant (the chemo and/or radiation), we also evaluate them from head to toe, making sure there isn’t any kind of infection that would delay or potentially prevent a transplant from happening.
What sort of problems do you help families navigate?
We work with patients and families from all over the country and the world. Sometimes families have financial barriers, language differences, cultural diversity that we want to understand and respect, difficulty obtaining travel visas and limited medical history. We have a comprehensive team that works with each referred patient to support the individual needs of the patients. Our program works with families to obtain insurance approval, or we can help gather up the medical records we need. Sometimes, they worry about transportation to Minnesota. They need a place to stay while their child is being treated. We have financial case managers, social workers and an administrative team to help them. Once these things are taken care of, the families know they are not alone and have fewer things to worry about. They can just focus on their child.
What’s your specific role in a family’s medical journey?
I am the first contact most families have with our program. When we first talk, transplant becomes very real to them. In a very broad way, I explain what they can expect from the first visit with our physician, nurse coordinator and social worker. I make sure they know who they can contact directly if additional questions come up.
Your job sounds very stressful. Do you find it rewarding?
I feel honored and privileged to be working with families at such a sensitive time. My goal is to support families as they transition to our program. Working with this program has helped me redefine what is truly important in my life, this is a very rewarding job.