CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It might be Charlotte's best kept secret.
We've heard words like "devastating" and "crushed" when families describe getting the news that their child has cancer. Some of those families are getting world-class treatment in Charlotte that's literally driving distance away from their homes.
WBTV's Christine Sperow was invited to get the very first inside look at the St. Jude affiliate clinic at Novant Health Hemby Children's Hospital in Charlotte and speak with a Union County family about their experience.
Erin's son Brody was diagnosed with cancer. She recalls the evening they were given the news. "I think we got to the hospital around six o'clock and then by, you know, 8 p.m. or so, they told us he had cancer."
"Mom came into the room crying and I said "mom what's wrong" and she didn't want to tell me," Brody said.
That emotional day was in 2016. Brody was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Several weeks of not feeling well turned into their worst fears and had to make a big decision within hours of Brody's diagnosis.
"The doctor came back with the team and said here are your three treatment options, you need to choose one now because we're starting tomorrow," said Erin.
Treatment at St. Jude was among their choices. What they didn't realize is they wouldn't have to get on the plane and potentially stay at St. Jude's main campus in Memphis, Tennessee for treatment. Due to the St. Jude affiliation at Novant Health Hemby Children's Hospital in Charlotte, pediatric cancer patients receive the same groundbreaking treatment as they would at the Tennessee hospital, and access to more clinical trials than any other cancer treatment facility in the region.
"I don't think a lot of people realize we are here and the amount of work that we're doing," Dawn Mergenthaler, who is a pediatric nurse, says.
"You feel like okay this is where I need to be. This is the best place for my child to receive the treatment that they need to get the best outcome," Donna Michel, also a pediatric nurse at the affiliate clinic said.
While getting our first look inside the clinic, patients and families, who are walking in feeling unknown, step foot into the inviting kid-friendly lobby which is the first area they see. As you pass exam rooms and labs, bright colors adorn every corner low and high, with age appropriate activities within arm's reach.
During the treatment process, child life specialists and counselors are on hand to help patients and families understand what is going on.
"Especially our younger children, they learn so quickly. They're so resilient. They adapt especially well to the process of treatment to their diagnosis," Julia Oesterle, who is a pediatric counselor, said.
"To be able to provide, or receive that type of care but close to home in your own or environment is pretty unbelievable," Mary Duncan Johnson, who is a child life specialist, said.
"To be able to comfort that family, be a resource to a family at that time is a privilege and to be able offer them immediate hope for treatment that can offer their child a cure that is really what we love doing," says Pediatric Oncologist and Hematologist Dr. Jessica Bell.
What's also popular here are celebrations! In this case Brody just had his tenth birthday! He was delivered a personal cake while everyone sang him happy birthday!
His whole family is looking forward to celebrating him being cancer free. That's when Brody get to will ring the bell hung on one of the walls of the affiliate clinic to mark the end of his treatment.
"As a parent you feel like nobody can love your child the way you do but the people here at Hemby at St. Jude and everything, they love your child too," said Erin.
Right now, Brody is in remission and will be in maintenance for three years following his treatment plan.
The St. Jude affiliate clinic at Novant takes referrals 24 hours a day. They're biggest message to parents is that if you have any concern that your child might have cancer you can contact them.