The Vannie E. Cook Jr. Children’s Cancer and Hematology Clinic, located in McAllen, Texas, is the only comprehensive pediatric cancer and hematology treatment facility in South Texas. Dr. Juan Carlos Bernini is the clinic’s medical director, and he has answered a handful of questions about the clinic below.
1. Why was the clinic established? Who had a hand in its development?
The Vannie Cook Clinic was a major team effort between the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Cancer Foundation, Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers in Houston. It was created in response to an overwhelming, unmet need for pediatric cancer and blood disorder care and treatment in the Rio Grande Valley and its surrounding regions in South Texas.
We’re the first and only state-of-the-art pediatric cancer and hematology facility in the region with local physicians available 24/7 in the community, and we still exist and operate to ensure local children suffering from cancer and blood disorders receive accessible, quality treatment without having to travel far for their care. Since we opened, not a single patient has been turned away if they’re not able to pay for our services. This specifically makes me incredibly happy and proud.
2. When you first visited South Texas, what did you find in its communities?
When we landed in McAllen, its community enthusiastically embraced us – word of our arrival sure did spread fast! We immediately started accepting patients with help and referrals from local health care facilities, and we leaped many hurdles when it came to training staff and developing an infrastructure for the clinic. I was the clinic’s only physician at first, but we received plenty of help from our partners at Texas Children’s before we really grew our team.
Before we arrived, most of the local children with cancer and blood disorders had to travel several hours to and from San Antonio or Houston for treatment. This region didn’t have any pediatric cancer facilities, and there were no pediatric oncologists or hematologists regularly practicing close by. We expected to see 100 patients within our first year of operation. We ended up seeing over 400 patients. It was obvious how critical our presence was, but the community thankfully trusted and bolstered our ability to serve them.
3. Since opening your doors, what changes have you seen within the clinic and the community it serves?
Today, we’re among the busiest pediatric cancer and hematology practices in the entire state. We’re a member of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) – a unique feat for a freestanding clinic. This allows us to provide local children with critical access to clinical trials, particularly Hispanic children, a widely underrepresented population in cancer research.
We’ve treated more than 9,000 children over the past 17 years at the Vannie Cook Clinic. We also grew our small group of providers into a top-notch team of physicians, nurses, social workers, clinic technicians and administrative supporters, all committed to delivering the newest and most advanced therapies to our young patients.
Now that our community has access to quality care for cancer and blood disorders, we’ve seen a distinct evolution in our patients and their families. We’re starting to see and treat the children of our past survivors from time-to-time. Most importantly, we’re able to forge exciting paths of long-term survivorship with our patients every day.
4. What’s your vision for the future of the clinic? Do you have any new developments coming down the pipeline?
We’re always evaluating the services we provide, and we strive to deliver the best care possible to the children we serve. Even though we treat children from across the Rio Grande Valley, the Vannie Cook Clinic is located in Hidalgo Country. Right now, we’re exploring options to strengthen our connection with patients in Cameron County. We would love to possibly expand our services and provide access to care by opening a second location.
5. What services are offered at the Vannie Cook Clinic?
In addition to our diagnostic and treatment services for cancer and blood disorder patients, the Vannie Cook Clinic follows pediatric cancer survivors through adulthood in long-term survivor programs and conducts childhood cancer research through participation in clinical trials and epidemiology studies.
6. Do I need a referral to make an appointment at the Vannie Cook Clinic?
If you’re looking to make an appointment with us, a referral from your child’s physician is required. Your physician can call us at 956-661-9840. This conversation helps determine how quickly your child needs to be scheduled for an appointment and can help us determine which laboratory tests are needed during the first visit.
Once you’re appointment is set, you can find a list of items to bring here.
We’re located at 101 W. Expressway 83, McAllen, TX 78503. If you’re interested in learning more about the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Children’s Cancer and Hematology Clinic, click here.