THE Davao Regional Medical Center (DRMC) in Tagum City, Davao del Norte, will be getting its own House of Hope facility through a multi-million peso donation by billionaire philanthropist Jared Isaacman, the Mission Commander of Polaris Dawn, who visited the Southern Philippines Medical Center-Children Cancer Institute (SPMC-CCI) last 18 April 2023.
This is yet another milestone in reaching children with cancer in Mindanao through the SPMC-CCI and its satellite hospitals in Tagum, the La Viña General Hospital in Valencia City, Bukidnon, St. Elizabeth Hospital in General Santos City, and the Northern Mindanao Medical Center in Cagayan de Oro City.
Isaacman came over to deliver Starlinks satellite to SPMC-CCI to enhance its connectivity with its satellite hospitals for children with cancer all over Mindanao. He came with the Polaris Dawn crew Scott “Kidd” Poteet, Sarah Gillis, and Anna Mennon, delighting the children as they came in their uniforms.
“Being given the gift of Starlinks is like receiving superpowers. It gives us the power to be able to communicate and for others to reach us. The Polaris Dawn crew gave us such a gift,” said Dr. Mae Dolendo, Director of Pediatric Oncology of the SPMC-CCI and founder House of Hope for Kids with Cancer Foundation, Inc.
But Dr. Dolendo was in for a bigger surprise.
Isaacman came to gift SMPC-CCI and House of Hope with two units of Starlink. But, upon seeing the extent of the work being done for Mindanao, he and the Polaris Dawn Program decided to gift House of Hope with five more Starlinks and US$500,000, around P27.5-million.
“Akala ko nag-earthquake,” Dolendo said in describing how she felt when she saw the donation. She had to count the zeroes a few times to ensure she read the amount correctly.
Although she had an inkling that Isaacman was going to donate some amount because the program was asking about the bank details on the Kids of Hope website, she was expecting a much smaller amount.
Polaris Dawn is a planned private human spaceflight mission, operated by SpaceX on behalf of Shift4 Payments CEO Jared Isaacman, scheduled to launch later this year on a five-day mission in space. The flight will be using the Crew Dragon capsule. It is the first of three planned missions in SpaceX’s Polaris program.
As House of Hope already has an architect’s perspective and plan for its transient home and school building for DRMC, Dolendo said they are sharing a portion of this donation for its construction. They are naming this House of Hope-Polaris Dawn.
Dolendo said Isaacman asked her what else she needed when the two units of Starlink were handed over for the House of Hope and CCI.
“I told him that we would appreciate a Starlink for the other satellite hospitals because we may have a good connection, but communication will still be crippled if we cannot hear those in the satellites,” she said. The SPMC-CCI regularly holds teleconferences with the four other satellite hospitals and also holds case consultations online.
Isaacman readily committed to donating five more Starlinks.
Dolendo and the House of Hope team visited DRMC Medical Center Chief II Dr. Bryan O. Dalid to announce the available funding. Vice Governor De Carlo “Oyo” Uy joined the meeting and committed to continue helping the House of Hope officially and personally.
Dr. Dalid vowed to work for the usufruct agreement as the House of Hope-Polaris Dawn will be built inside the DRMC compound. At present, the House of Hope transient home in Tagum is a rented house in a subdivision with very limited capacity and no space for the children to continue their schooling.
The HOH-Polaris Dawn is envisioned to be a three-story facility with living spaces and classrooms. This is how it is at the House of Hope in Davao City where education facilities are set up and there is a partnership with the Dumanlas Elementary School, which provides the teachers. This kind of facility is what will be built at DRMC, which takes care of children with cancer from Davao del Norte, Davao de Oro, and the surrounding Agusan and Surigao areas.
SPMC-CCI already provided specialists for these children with hematologist/oncologist Dr. Cheryl Lyn Diez, Dr. Jeannie Ong, and recent Pediatric Oncology Fellowship Training graduate Dr. Jenny Pearl Librero, who all trained under SPMC-CCI and St. Jude.
“A transient home allows a child from the poorest and most marginalized families coming from far-flung areas to complete treatment by providing a place to stay near the hospital,” Dolendo explained. “Curing a child with cancer takes months, even a few years. This is our biggest challenge and the reason we continue to find resources for our kids. The demands are great for every child and we still see them in the late stages of the disease because of poverty and poor access to appropriate care.”
The Polaris Dawn supports St Jude Children’s Research Hospital and St Jude Global. Their visit last April was to personally deliver their Starlink donation to SPMC and House of Hope they have also given to Chile, Peru, Brazil, and Mozambique to help improve medical communication.
Dr. Dolendo said that while they have been increasing the survival rates of children with cancer, more has to be done because they estimate that they have only reached 30 percent of children with cancer in Mindanao. There is a big majority that remains unserved and unreached.
“There is still a child with cancer out there who does not even get the chance for cure,” she said.