Lady Ford opens organisation's complex in fight against disease

Ian Watson

THE fight against childhood cancer will receive extra support when patron of the Children's Cancer Foundation Lady Ford, wife of Chief Secretary Sir David Ford, officially opens the foundation's new Family Service Centre at Wong Tai Sin.

The foundation set up the centre, which is in Lower Wong Tai Sin Estate, in order to concentrate all its patient support work in one place and to better serve young sufferers and their close relatives.

Among the foundation's professionals are a clinical psychologist, senior social worker, three case workers, a counselling nurse, a welfare worker, an education and development officer and a play-work co-ordinator. They are all backed by a network of volunteers.

The Family Service Centre provides psycho-social services that include counselling, financial assistance, playwork and a parents' club.

Counselling is most importance because it helps patients and their families to cope with the trauma of cancer in its various stages.

Home visits are made when necessary and in-depth counselling and psychotheraphy is available for patients and family members who are severely distressed.

The CCF's clinical psychologist also conducts support, bereavement and focus groups.

The Family Service Centre is also a base for the foundation's hot-line crises counselling and information service.

Patients and families in the Bone Marrow Transplantation Programme at the Prince of Wales Hospital constitute a special group.

They need particular attention in counselling because patients suffer from much greater physical discomfort, and because of the effects of long-term isolation.

The foundation has a financial assistance programme that deals mainly with the special needs arising from a patient's illness.

The help includes: a long hospital stay allowance; money to buy wigs, artificial eyes, limbs, spectacles and dentures; subsidies for special diets; and travel, school, private tuition, child-minding, burial and cremation fees.

Playing can help young patients a great deal psychologically. The foundation has a team of trained, voluntary play workers who help under a professional's guidance.

Play areas in hospitals are created where possible and these may be equipped with TV sets, VCRs, or cordless telephones. New toys, games and books are essential play tools. Collections are constantly being added to and gifts are distributed on all festivals.

Patients with deep emotional difficulties can also be given professional play therapy by the co-ordinator or clinical psychologist.

The foundation has established a Parents' Club, which will be based at the Family Service Centre, to facilitate contact and communication between them. There are more than 120 members.

The free membership covers social activities for out-patients, seminars on childhood cancer for parents and a twice-yearly Chinese-language newsletter is distributed to families and donors. More recently, the newsletter has been made available to the public.

The Prince of Wales Hospital has two bacteria-free isolation cubicles that allow 16 children a year to receive bone-marrow transplants. But each year about 40 children with cancer and other blood disorders need this service.

Except for a small yearly government subsidy for drugs, all major expenses for such transplants are borne by private funds. The CCF, when it was with the Chinese University, provided $4.3 million to set up the unit under the Paediatric Bone Marrow Transplantation Programme.

The foundation is still responsible for funding the unit's running and maintenance and for training doctors, nurses, dieticians and technicians.

So far, 17 children have received bone-marrow transplants at the Prince of Wales and, as every successful operation means so much to a life, the foundation is sparing no effort in its work.

The programme is also subsidised by funds left with the Chinese University by the CCF.

The foundation is paying rent for five half-way homes on lease from the Social Welfare Department and the Housing Authority, and also for renovating and furnishing them.

The homes are used as quasi-hospital quarters for patients to stay for about six to nine months after being discharged so their immune systems can be restored enough before they return home.

Three of the half-way homes are in Sha Tin and are specifically for bone-marrow transplant patients.

The others, one at Homantin and the other in Pokfulam, house patients who do not have a hygienic home to return to after intensive chemotherapy.

The Pokfulam home is sometimes used as temporary accommodation for family members of patients from Macau.

Under the CCF's fourth-year programme, a half-way home is being planned for Tuen Mun.

The foundation is also doing its best to support doctors' research in finding a cure.

It assists hospitals to upgrade their treatment facilities and services and helps buy doctors the best and latest equipment available for treating cancer.

It sets aside more than $1 million a year to sponsor further training for medical staff and for them to attend seminars and conferences at home and abroad.

Under the foundation's Education and Information programme, there is a telephone medical information service.

The programme handles the production of newsletters, leaflets, books, documentaries and audio-visual aids on childhood cancer.

It also organises seminars, workshops and exhibitions on the subject.

There is a resource library at the Family Service Centre.

The CCF plans to provide hospitals with resources to set up a leukaemia registry and a childhood cancer registry. These will help doctors to obtain new findings for further planning and research into the disease.

Late next year, the fight against children's cancer will have another string to its bow.

The Lady Pao Children's Cancer Centre in the Prince of Wales Hospital should be completed by the end of next year, as part of the Sir Yue-kong Pao Centre for Cancer.

This new centre will be equipped and furnished by the foundation, with the aim of creating a loving, happy and entirely patient-friendly atmosphere for the children.

The Children's Cancer Foundation said its intension was to operate beyond 1997 and, if circumstances permitted, it hoped to help children from China in the same way it cared for patients from Macau.