Until recently, families with children battling cancer were forced to leave the Flathead Valley for the various stages of medical care.
That is changing thanks to Carrie Neuhardt and Kalispell Regional Healthcare.
In August, Neuhardt established a pediatric oncology and hematology program at the hospital campus in Kalispell. She built the program three years ago in Billings, and she is now establishing the lone pediatric cancer center in Western Montana, which will be able to serve newborns through young adults who are battling the various types of cancer.
“Everything has really hit the ground running,” she said. “A lot of families are really grateful having us here and that’s very motivating. There has been tremendous excitement and support. Everybody is pulling together to get trained and get going.
A team of nurses at Kalispell Regional Healthcare is undergoing specialized training to handle pediatric oncology and hematology. At first, the Kalispell center will be able to diagnose and treat a variety of ailments, including leukemia, tumors and more. Patients will still have to venture out of state for some forms of treatment, but Neuhardt said the goal in the near future is to provide all stages of medical care in Kalispell.
“We’re starting out small and will grow into full size,” she said. “We expect to grow month by month and year by year.”
Neuhardt’s center is currently based in the hospital’s Northwest Oncology Clinic, but the goal is to grow into a new pediatric tower on campus.
Next spring another pediatric hematologist-oncologist could join the center, too, Neuhardt said.
Neuhardt received her medical degree from Louisiana State University School of Medicine In New Orleans. When she was a student starting out, she had a passion for helping children. She volunteered at a children’s hospital in New Orleans and saw the profound impact she could have on people’s lives.
“It’s a very intense job. For every family it takes a stressful situation and we try to make it better,” she said.
The children’s cancer clinic is the latest addition at the growing hospital campus in Kalispell. Kalispell Regional Healthcare continues to grow its profile as a destination in the Pacific Northwest. The emergency room is in the process of being greatly expanded. Hospital officials are in discussions about more collaboration with North Valley Hospital in Whitefish as the valley’s population continues to grow.
Jim Oliverson, vice president of Kalispell Regional Healthcare, said the new cancer clinic will provide a vital resource for families.
“When you talk about bringing this to the area, it just makes my heart swell,” he said.